CRY MACHO is the new one starring and directed by Mr. Clint Eastwood. In a way it seems like a movie he would’ve made when he was younger, and in fact he almost did make it in the late ‘80s, but decided to do THE DEAD POOL instead. I think making it now it ended up much gentler than it would’ve back then, for better or worse. Although it has some things in common with THE MULE (goofy old widower driving over the border into Mexico, going to a scary villa of criminals, driving around in a truck, getting chased by gunmen and cops) it’s a simpler story and production. As a result it might have fewer things people can pick out to laugh at, but also less that’s really original or interesting about it.
That’s okay. It’s an actor in his ‘90s directing himself during a pandemic. As far as those go it’s a fuckin masterpiece. I enjoyed it.
Clint plays ex-rodeo cowboy and horse trainer Mike Milo. Long ago he broke his back, got addicted to pills, became a fuck up. At the beginning of the movie his boss Howard Polk (Dwight Yoakam, THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA) fires him after he comes in late. I suppose to many, perhaps most people the movie is already ridiculous at this point because Clint is 91 years old and maybe Howard should’ve convinced him to retire years ago instead of fire him now. Other people have theorized that Mike is meant to be much younger than Clint’s actual age, which certainly would make some things in the movie make more sense.
But I just need to say up front that if you’re not going to accept an old actor playing a character who does things that people that old don’t usually do, then this one is not for you. Plenty of people question whether Mike should be driving a truck while they watch the actual Clint perform the way more difficult task of directing and starring in a major motion picture! But it’s true, most 90 year olds couldn’t do the stuff Mike does in the movie, so hopefully Clint will make another one where he’s just in bed the whole time except at the climax he goes out and sits on a rocking chair on the porch. I trust you all will support that one when it comes out, since it’s what you wanted, and I will too because my policy is to watch whatever the fuck movie Clint wants to make. Even if it’s about J. Edgar Hoover or Jersey boys.
A year later, Howard convinces Mike to do him a big favor: go to Mexico to get his son Rafo (Eduardo Minett) away from abusive ex-wife Leta (Fernanda Urrejola, BRING ME THE HEAD OF THE MACHINE GUN WOMAN). She lives in a mansion with a bunch of henchmen and is known for throwing wild parties. Rafo had a falling out with her because, well… he says not because she’s a ho, but because he doesn’t want to keep calling her new boyfriends “Uncle.” (So it’s meaningful when he later lies that Mike is his uncle.)
Mike sneaks into one of the parties, is caught and laughed at by Leta, who says her son is “a monster” so she doesn’t give a shit if he takes him. She doesn’t even know for sure where the kid is, but correctly points Mike to the cockfights, where he finds Rafo and gets him to talk to him by threatening the neck of his rooster Macho.
Howard said Rafo would listen to Mike because he’s “a real cowboy,” and sure enough this does impress the kid, who by the way is said to be “about 13” but seems older. (They should just have an adult play the kid, like the original TRUE GRIT.) Rafo does seem open to going, but takes off when he sees cops, and doesn’t agree to go until after Leta changes her mind, and threatens to have Mike killed if he doesn’t leave town.
But you know how it goes: Mike gives in and takes Rafo, and this is a road movie with the old man and kid bickering but becoming friends, stopping at places, stealing various cars to escape Arelio and the local police.
People made fun of Clint punching a guy in the trailer, but he survives the few violent encounters in this one due to luck and the help of others, especially Macho. He knows the spry GRAN TORINO days are long past. (Man, I thought he was so old in GRAN TORINO, and in BLOOD WORK before that, and before that in UNFORGIVEN… that was almost 30 years ago! A hell of a run, this guy.)
As you know if you’ve read my reviews of them, I’m a fan of these late period Eastwood movies just as I’m a fan of all the other periods of Eastwood movies. Many people in my movie discussion circles (on Twitter) just like to make fun of them, but I don’t have patience for superficial meme-based discussions of obviously heartfelt movies. Ha ha there was a fake baby one time, ha ha I read that he only does one take so I will repeat that one thing endlessly because what other insights would I have to offer, ha ha he’s old and I am not as old gaze upon my gorgeous youthful vitality he has more wrinkles fuck that guy.
With THE MULE they fixated on the fact that Clint’s character has an offscreen threesome with prostitutes. As you know, if an unusual thing happens in a movie, that is inherently bad, and if you smugly state what that unusual thing is then you have defeated the movie and you get to carve another hash mark of victory into your flesh. That’s how this works. I’m sure the part people will describe in order to triumph over CRY MACHO is the scene where Leta decides Mike should sleep with her and then is so insulted when he turns her down that she wants him killed. Yes, this is a weird scene and yes, it was originally written for a much younger character, but also that is exactly why you should value you it because this is some crazy shit right here. The crazy version of that scene is better than the standard version, which we’ve already seen many times.
There’s a good moment of nuance right after that, when Leta sends her right hand man Arelio (Horacio Garcia Rojas, THE COMPASS IS CARRIED BY THE DEAD MAN) after Mike. Arelio will be a pretty standard bad guy for most of the movie, a henchman chasing them, but here he tells Leta to calm down, and the way she stands close to him it seems like either they’re a thing, or she manipulates him by taking advantage of him wanting them to be a thing. Either way, he knows she just tried to fuck this old man. But he does what she says. I felt sorry for the guy.
Like so many of Clint’s movies going back to at least UNFORGIVEN, this has an undertone of an aging icon looking back at what he once represented with some regrets, or at least with new wisdom. The first words in the movie are a country song (“Find a New Home,” sung by Will Banister) saying, “Lord I’ve made my share of mistakes / But I meant no wrong / And when the sun sets on the hillside / The nights can be so long.” There’s not much to it, but there’s a nice message of Mike trying to teach Rafo – who’s big on himself and his rooster being seen as tough – that “that macho stuff is overrated.” These days he’s not really interested in finding someone to make his day.
One thing he does enjoy in this one is animals. That includes horses (okay, nobody’s not noticing it’s a stunt double when that thing is trying to buck him off) but I especially love how often he’s holding Macho, petting him like a cat, and talking to him. I could’ve used more Macho. Hopefully there is an extended cut.
He also falls in love. Marta (Natalia Traven, COLLATERAL DAMAGE) is widowed like he is, but… let’s just say she’s a little younger than Mike and/or Clint. Like, maybe a decade younger. Or two. Okay, actually four. People will wonder why somebody would fall in love with a guy who just through simple mathematics has to be in the last part of his life? Well, again, that’s kind of what makes it interesting. She’s not stupid, she obviously recognizes what she’s getting into. But it must be worth it to them to spend time together while they can. They’re enjoying the moment. That’s beautiful. (If the age gap bothers you, just picture Cat Stevens songs on the soundtrack.)
The stand out actors in this are the kid’s parents, Urrejola as Leta and Yoakam as Howard. Urrejola is a fun villain, manic and weirdly flirtatious, and she makes it hard to tell if she’s fucking with you or not. And Yoakam (whose character Mike seems to still respect for even after being fucked over by him) is always an enjoyable presence in movies (see also: RED ROCK WEST, SLING BLADE, PANIC ROOM, LOGAN LUCKY) and it’s surprising, come to think of it, that he’d never been in an Eastwood movie before. They’re a good match.
N. Richard Nash, who died more than 20 years ago, is credited as one of the writers. This is because he wrote the screenplay in the early ‘70s and, unable to sell it, decided to rewrite it as a novel. It was published in 1975 and was a hit, so he was quickly hired to “adapt” it for 20th Century Fox, basically just giving them the finished screenplay they’d previously rejected. I’m not sure which directors and actors flirted with it before Eastwood, but I read that in the early ‘90s Roy Scheider almost starred in it, and I know I bought and read the book around 2011 because Arnold Schwarzenegger was supposed to star in a version directed by Brad Fuhrman. But then an affair/child/divorce type issue came up and he put his return to acting on hold.
The other credited writer is Nick Schenk, who wrote GRAN TORINO and THE MULE, so he has to have rewritten the original 45+ year old script sometime this decade. It’s set in 1979, though, so he didn’t have to rewrite it to have him complaining about cell phones and the internet. I don’t remember the book much and I seem to have sold it or lost it, but according to my research the biggest change must be taking out a bunch of stuff about Mike’s wife, who in the book left him due to an affair (in the movie she died in a car accident). And the movie tones down the violence. In the book, Marta’s house gets burned down and she gets hurt, Mike gets shot in the shoulder, and Macho gets snatched by a vulture! I think we’re all glad Macho gets out alive. Spoiler.
Other regular Eastwood collaborators on board here include editor Joel Cox (with David S. Cox) and production designer Ronald R. Reiss. But there are also some people he’s never worked with before: producer Albert S. Ruddy (THE GODFATHER, CANNONBALL RUN), cinematographer Ben Davis (LAYER CAKE, SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS, DOCTOR STRANGE) and composer Mark Mancina (SPACE MUTINY, SPEED). I was surprised by that last credit because some of the score sounded so much like Clint playing piano, but then I saw that he gets an “additional music” credit. So there you go. The ol’ “it says Ennio Morricone so why does it sound like John Carpenter?”
This doesn’t seem necessarily designed to be Clint’s curtain call, so don’t read too much into this, but it made me think about American VI: Ain’t No Grave, the last (at least as of now) of Johnny Cash’s Rick Rubin produced albums, released posthumously. I remember talking to somebody when it came out who said they didn’t like it, they thought Johnny sounded terrible. His voice is shaky on the album, his lungs sound weak. But that’s part of what I like about it. You can hear a long, storied life in that voice. His entire journey. There’s no sense that he’s trying to sing like he did when he was young, or that he’s bothered that he can’t. He’s singing songs for us because he loves to do it, and he knows we want to hear it, and that he has a little more wisdom to impart to us. That album and its predecessor American V: A Hundred Highways were recorded in the last couple months of his life, and he seems at peace with that, singing “For the Good Times” and “Aloha Oe.”
There’s gratitude in those songs, and satisfaction.
In CRY MACHO Clint’s voice at times reminded me of my grandpa late in life or my mom when she was sick but in good spirits. He has accepted that the swagger of his youth is gone and unneeded. But the person that was always underneath is still there. This is definitely Grandpa Clint, with nothing much to be mad about. He just wants to make a few jokes, be nice to people, give some advice, pay back a favor, spend time with kids, maybe sit in a lawn chair with a glass of whisky and enjoy the sunset. Yeah, he’s got that lovable grouch thing, and when cops pull him over and tear apart his (stolen) car looking for non-existent drugs he never stops grumbling about them being “Mickey mouse cop pricks” and what not. But mostly he’s out there appreciating life. If Clint had wanted to retire, it would’ve been well earned. Since he clearly doesn’t want to, he’s earned that too.
I said the same thing about Jean-Luc Godard making GOODBYE TO LANGUAGE 3D when he was 84, but this one I actually enjoyed watching.