Clint Eastwood’s Mike Milo character in “Cry Macho” says “I don’t know how to heal old people”. As the director and star of this serenely calm road trip production, Eastwood understands that there is no cure, so the best thing to do is to lean into it.
The actor / director who once personified the word macho through his brutal action films shows that it is also possible to be macho through strong, controlled emotions. Eastwood, 91, relies heavily on telling his story through a more mature approach.
Eastwood plays a former rodeo star and failed horse breeder who, in 1979, was invited by his former boss, Howard Polk (Dwight Yoakam), to travel to Mexico to bring his son back. The job is billed as a family reunion, but Milo learns the deepest truth on his journey.
Finding the boy, Rafo (Eduardo Minett), turns out to be relatively easy. Getting him back to the United States turns out to be the big deal as Rafo’s mother is clearly possessive. This makes Milo and Rafo’s trip from Mexico City to the Texas border a series of narrow escapes.
This is the trip where Eastwood shows the best way to tell a story where the central figure doesn’t move with the same speed that comes with youth but still has the same bravado. Eastwood plays Milo as a man who has been physically and emotionally damaged over the years. But, there is still a spark of hope in him that keeps him going.
The journey for two is not a high speed chase but a slow march. Eastwood gives the couple enough time – as well as Rafo’s pet chicken – to engage in some very real life conversations.
Although Rafo is decades younger than Milo, he slowly reveals that in many ways he is also broken physically and emotionally. The generational gaps that loom between them are bridged by shared pain.
The screenplay written by Nick Schenk and N. Richard Nash based on Nash’s 1975 novel is filled with moments where conversations have multiple levels. It’s never clear when the talks get macho, whether it’s references to poultry or guys.
The film can also be seen as Eastwood mirroring his own career. Milo talks about the absurdity of a rodeo rider putting his life on the line for the entertainment of others. Eastwood has never faced real physical danger as an actor, but has spent his life putting himself emotionally on the line for the entertainment of others. He and Milo have reached that point in their lives where they question the wisdom of their choices.
Because so much of “Cry Macho” is about the Two Travelers, there’s tremendous pressure on Minett to be on the same acting level as the seasoned Eastwood. There are times when Minett’s performance gets a bit steep but overall he makes a suitable acting partner for Eastwood.
The acting challenge for Minett wouldn’t have been so critical if the film moved forward at a faster pace. Much of the slowness – which sometimes painfully borders on boredom – forces all players to step up.
The filmmakers fed audiences such a steady diet of great action movies that there is a form of artistic numbness formed when it comes to the simple stories of the human condition. “Cry Macho” reminds us that it’s okay to slowly savor a well-made product and not always have to consume entertainment as if it were fast food.
When the man who cooks the product is as talented as Eastwood, taking the time is a very positive path.
If you have read Nash’s book, it will become evident that the main themes of the book remain the same but the tempo is slower and there are major changes at the end. The film’s conclusion is not entirely satisfactory due to so many unanswered questions. But, not to be spoon fed, a trivial conclusion would have been worse.
“Cry Macho” is currently in theaters and can also be seen on HBO’s streaming service Max.
To throw: Clint Eastwood, Dwight Yoakam, Eduardo Minett, Natalia Traven.
Director: Clint eastwood
Rated: PG-13 for language, thematic elements
Operating time: 121 min.