Cry Macho, the new 70s set film by the world’s most productive nonagenarian director, Clint Eastwood, has embarked on a nearly 50-year journey on screen, a journey that, after actually watching Cry Macho, is far more interesting than what has stopped before us. After his screenplay was rejected in the 70’s, writer N Richard Nash turned it into a novel before putting on the exact same screenplay that was purchased this time by Fox. Eastwood was offered it in the late ’80s but decided instead to play in The Dead Pool while offering to direct Robert Mitchum in the role. In the 90’s Roy Scheider signed up but production was never finished. By the time Pierce Brosnan and Burt Lancaster had also been confirmed earlier in 2003, Arnold Schwarzenegger had chosen them as his next role, but withdrew when he became governor. When his term ended, he announced that it would be his next project, but just as production began, his dealings with a domestic worker who gave birth to his child fell through.
One could call the project Cursed, a stop-and-start conveyor belt that honestly should have stopped a hundred years ago. Eastwood’s decision to reinvent the project in 2020 to make a film ambitious in the last half of the year with pandemic restrictions is understandable – it’s a film that addresses topics visually and textually that have interested him for years – but it is also one that is critically misjudged. It’s not clear how much of the script has changed over time – the writing credit includes Nash and also Nick Schenk, who wrote Gran Torino in The Mule – but it seems like the correct answer is “not enough”. Eastwood, who turned 91 this year, plays a character who feels so much younger written (as implied by the many actors who joined shortly before – Scheider was 59 and Schwarzenegger was 64) and so should a huge Leaps of major support are changes in writing. But with women half his age asking him to sleep with them and a physically strenuous job that seems difficult at his age, the film begins with a disability that one can never quite complete.
Eastwood plays the improbably named Mike Milo, an ex-rodeo star who ended his career after a serious back injury. He retired behind the scenes to shave and train horses, a job from which he was fired in the opening. Especially right after he lets him go, her former boss (a hammy Dwight Yoakam) hires him to go to Mexico to bring his depressed 13-year-old son Rafo (Mexican TV star Eduardo Minett) back from his mother. Milo agrees and after finding the child in the middle of a honeymoon, he begins the journey back home, with a number of potholes on the way.
We’re already in a similar territory to both Gran Torino and The Mule, but fortunately Eastwood still plays no other “get off my lawn” bigot, whose wildness is played for an uncomfortable humor, instead he is just hacked by the career that he lost and the family died the year before. He is well-intentioned, a PG Grouch who ultimately wants the best and hopes and the role allows his natural charm to shine even when used only in short supply. There is also a refreshing economy with his relationship with the child, the pair connects with lightness without an extended “You are not my real father” tension. The two have a comfortable chemistry but the script brings them not enough substance to work with, just a chain of perfunctory and increasingly uninteresting conversations about very little interest. There are slightly drawn emotional beats that the film fails and what an engaging, if simple, story could have been strangely lifeless.
What’s most surprising about some of Eastwood’s later films is their inefficient narration. What some of his best, and even some of his more mediocre, films share in common is an old-fashioned strength that glides us from first to second to third act with a stiff professionalism. Instead, Cry Macho is driven by a slow pace and an inertia that overwhelms, scene after scene of nothing, not a funny line or a moving moment or an unresolved conflict, just nothing. Eastwood seems to think he can enjoy the scenery and goodness of the characters alone, but it’s not flashy enough, his heart may be on the sleeve but it’s barely pumping.
The film recognizes age but not advanced age in, as in The milk, Eastwood plays a character that many younger women can not control, a strange selfish passage (this time he is at least able to avoid having three dreams). The macho of the title is the name of Rafo’s cock and allows a discussion about the value that is placed on hyperhumanity. There is a small moment of self-reflection at the end, as Milo looks back at the decisions he made and the weaknesses he took too long to reach. It is an almost fascinating meta-speech by Eastwood but also frustrating, which gives the film a sudden depth that is previously lacking. There’s more room here for lived melancholy, briefly shot in that scene, but it’s left blank and so when big emotions arrive, or at least when they should, the Cry Macho will leave all eyes in the house as dry as the Scenery.