Film Review – Cry Macho
The title of Cry Macho (2021) operates as an oxymoron. “Macho” expresses the inflated, aggressive nature of masculinity – one of toughness and perseverance in the face of adversity. To “Cry” is to express feelings that have stereotypically not been associated with what it means to be macho. Macho men don’t cry, or at least that’s what we’ve been led to believe. Perhaps the title aims to subvert the idea of masculinity – to show that compassion, vulnerability, and empathy are not signs of weakness, but of strength. It takes more courage for a person to admit who they really are instead of putting up a façade of invincibility.
That is what makes Clint Eastwood the ideal person to head this story. In his long career, Eastwood has seen much success playing stoic, hardened tough guys. In films like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) and Dirty Harry (1971), Eastwood was the personification of a macho actor. His onscreen persona is the direct descendent of John Wayne and Charles Bronson – men of few words but plenty of action. Now at the age of 91, Eastwood has been given the gift of experience and wisdom. He utilizes them in Cry Macho as a character who thought the world worked a certain way only to live long enough to discover he was wrong.
Taking both directing and starring roles, Eastwood adapts N. Richard Nash’s novel (who also cowrote the screenplay with Nick Schenk) as a jumble of conflicting tones. Advertisements would have us believe that this is a gritty western thriller, and the first act plays as such. Eastwood is Mike Milo, an aging horse breeder and retired rodeo star who is sent by his boss Howard (Dwight Yoakam) on a mission to Mexico. There, Mike must retrieve Howard’s son Rafo (Eduardo Minett) and bring him back to Texas. However, Mike runs into trouble with Howard’s ex-wife and Rafo’s mother, Leta (Fernanda Urrejola). She orders her minions to stop Mike at all costs.
This set up has the potential for suspense, and early on we see some of that play out. When Mike strolls through Leta’s home looking for her, the cinematography (Ben Davis) captures him in wide angles, stuck amid armed guards eyeing him suspiciously. When Mike finds Rafo and tries to bring him to his father, there is an added layer of unease since we aren’t sure if Rafo even wants to leave. But just like the title of the film undercuts a certain expectation, so too does the narrative. Eastwood, with his methodical, underplayed directing style, throws us for a loop as we enter the second act. As Mike and Rafo make their journey north, the tone gets much lighter, almost comedic. They stop at a small town where Marta (Natalia Traven) – who owns a diner – unexpectedly shows kindness to them.
It’s at this point where Cry Macho might lose some viewers. Those that expected it to be action-centric will be disappointed. The tension between Mike, Rafo, and Leta takes a backseat as we come to learn more about this little town. Mike and Rafo become ingrained in the community, helping with small jobs – tuning up cars, training horses, fixing Marta’s old jukebox, etc. It’s almost as if Mike and Rafo forgot that they were being pursued or that Howard is impatiently waiting for them in Texas. There’s even the possibility of romance amongst the townsfolk. Eastwood goes full on schmaltzy during these sequences, bathing romantic scenes in such a hazy sunlight that it looks like a parody of a Hallmark film.
I don’t know if audiences will buy into this switch. While the tonal change may not be as dramatic as say, Million Dollar Baby (2004), it does cause us to lose our bearings. It’s clear that Eastwood is not interested in telling a traditional modern Western – he treats the tropes with near spite. Moments that would normally play as edge of your seat, nail biting confrontations come across comedically. This is best exemplified in Leta’s henchman, Aurelio (Horacio Garcia Rojas). Aurelio is meant to be a hardened antagonist, sent out to take Rafo back even if it means shooting down Mike. But he’s portrayed like a bumbling incompetent, without a shred of intimidation. He allows Rafo to manipulate strangers for his defense, and even has a rooster get the better of him. If you allow a barnyard animal to get the better of you, you should probably search for other forms of employment.
I can see what Eastwood is going for in Cry Macho. For a filmmaker who has played a certain type of role for the better part of a century, it would make sense that he wouldn’t be interested in doing the same old thing. But his handling of the material feels haphazard and rushed – lacking consistency from beginning to end. He attempted to upend the mythos of the Western and the iconography of the cowboy, but by doing so pulled the rug out from under his own movie.