I’ve been a fan of Clint Eastwood my whole life.
The guy’s been making movies since before I was born, and there aren’t a lot of filmmakers out there now who I can say that about. I’ve been around for quite some time.
While I had seen many of his movies on TV when I was a kid, my first experience watching Eastwood on the big screen was his highly successful and very fun comedy EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE (1978). After that, it was off to the races, especially when his career morphed and suddenly he was being recognized more as a director than as an actor, and rightly so, because he began making some high quality movies, from the Oscar-winning UNFORGIVEN (1992) which some reviewers at the time thought was Eastwood’s swan song, to films like MILLION DOLLAR BABY (2004) and AMERICAN SNIPER (2014).
The point is, when Clint Eastwood makes a movie, I’m eager to see it.
Which brings us to today’s film, CRY MACHO (2021), which Eastwood both directs and stars in, a remarkable feat, considering that he is 91 years old. Let that sink in for a moment.
CRY MACHO is… let’s get this out of the way immediately… not one of Eastwood’s best. Not by a long shot. But it does possess an endearing quality about it and gets better as it goes along.
CRY MACHO is about an aged retired ranch hand named Mike Milo (Clint Eastwood) who agrees to do a job for his former boss because he feels he owes the man a debt, as years earlier after Mike had lost his wife and son in a car accident, and after he had suffered a devastating back injury when he was thrown off a horse, his boss had stuck by him and in effect had saved his life. The job is to go to Mexico and find and bring back his 13 year old son Rafo (Eduardo Minett) who is currently living with his unhinged and unpredictable mother.
When Mike arrives in Mexico he finds that the boy’s mother Leta (Fernanda Urrejola) is wealthy, lives in a mansion, and employs armed guards. Mike mutters to himself, “why would anyone ever want to leave this place?” Leta tells Mike that he’s not the first man Rafo’s dad has sent looking for him, that Rafo is out on the streets on his own and that Mike is welcome to go search for him, and oh yeah, she flirts with Mike and invites him to have sex with her… did I mention that Eastwood is 91 years old? Anyway, Mike declines and goes off and searches for the boy.
He finds Rafo, and after some haggling, the boy agrees to return with him, but not before they hide out in a small town, because even though she told Mike to look for her son, Leta refuses to part with him and sends her henchmen to bring the boy back. In the small town, they are befriended by the lovely Marta (Natalia Traven) and her daughters. Rafo tells Mike that he thinks Marta likes him. She does, and Mike likes Marta, and a romance—- have I said yet that Eastwood is 91 years-old?
Anyway, that’s the story as Mike intends to keeps his promise and eventually get the boy back to the States to see his dad.
The first issue that jumps out at me regarding CRY MACHO is its storytelling, which at at times struggles to be believable. Things get off to a clunky start, as the opening moments of the film unfold in a way that doesn’t exactly make for a smooth beginning. It’s 1979, and we see Mike pretty much being fired by his boss. We then watch a flashback showing Mike’s devastating back injury. Then it’s a year later… 1980?… and we see Mike’s boss hiring him to bring back his son which comes off as odd as the previous time we saw these two one was firing the other.
Then there’s the age issue. I’m not poking fun at Eastwood’s age or trying to argue that he’s old… hell, if I live to be 91 I hope I look half as good as Eastwood and am still creating like he is! But in terms of story, women who are way, way younger than him continually seeking him out just didn’t register high on the believability meter. Now, to the story’s credit, Mike’s age is not mentioned in the movie, and it appears that Mike is supposed to be younger than Eastwood’s 91 years. It’s left unsaid, so it’s not completely unbelievable, but it just doesn’t really work. I wish it did.
The acting doesn’t help. Eastwood is fine, and he gets his characteristic humorous one-liners and is amusing when he grumbles at the folks who are trying to impede his journey back to the states. One of his best lines is with Rafo, when the boy is telling him that he named his pet rooster Macho, and when the boy asks him what’s wrong with that, Mike replies, “Nothing. Guy wants to name his cock Macho, it’s okay by me.”
Eastwood’s best work here though isn’t his tough guy shtick, it’s his tender side, especially with animals. Mike is a former horse trainer and sort of an “animal whisperer” as he has a way with them, and when he is staying with Marta he gets a reputation as a healer and suddenly the townsfolk are all bringing their pets to him so he can treat them. He also gets philosophical, telling Rafo being macho is overrated, and just when you think you have life figured out you realize you really don’t.
And in two supporting roles both Natalia Traven as Marta and Fernanda Urrejola as Leta are solid. Traven makes Marta a relaxed caring woman who both Mike and Rafo feel at home with, while Urrejola is fiery and sultry as the boy’s powerful mother.
But Eduardo Minet as Rafo just didn’t work for me. His performance was kinda all over the place, and I think it was a combination of the writing and the acting, but he didn’t seem very real to me. I teach middle school and know a lot of 13 year-olds. I wasn’t buying this one.
And country music star Dwight Yoakam who plays Rafo’s dad I thought was also particularly bad.
N. Richard Nash wrote the screenplay for this one back in the 1970s, couldn’t sell it, turned it into a novel that was well-received, and then tried to shop the screenplay again, again unsuccessfully. Nash passed away in 2000. Nick Schenk, who also penned a couple of other recent Eastwood movies, THE MULE (2018) and GRAN TORINO (2008) co-wrote the screenplay for this version of CRY MACHO.
The screenplay here is a mixed bag. Some of the dialogue works, but a lot of it doesn’t. Eastwood’s lines run hot and cold, most of the time hot, but he gets stuck saying cliched things like “you’re growing on me, kid.” Almost all of Rafo’s lines are god-awful.
The story is okay. It has its endearing moments. Mike’s relationship with Marta is warm and enjoyable, and the way he is with animals is tender to watch, but the main story with him and Rafo is forced and not very believable. It’s also incredibly easy. Mike goes to Mexico and finds Rafo as easily as if he had been told to pick him up from school. He’s in an entirely different country for crying out loud! And yet he finds the boy first try. And this is 1980. No GPS!
And that’s my biggest issue with the story. It’s not very believable. It plays more like a dream Mike might be having. I go to Mexico, save my friend’s son, have a tryst with his sexy mom, but then fall in love with this wholesome single mother… YEAH, RIGHT!
Behind the camera, Eastwood does an adequate job. It’s about as slow-paced as you can get, and when you have characters you don’t fully believe in, that makes things even slower. But Eastwood has always known how to tell a story, and while those skills aren’t on full display here in CRY MACHO, there are many times when they are, enough to keep this one from being a total loss.
CRY MACHO isn’t one of Eastwood’s best. It’s supposed to be a tender story where Eastwood’s character teaches young Rafo about life and learns more about his own life in the process, but with realism a struggle, it plays more like a dream Mike would have had while taking an afternoon nap.
Which is something you might find yourself doing while watching CRY MACHO.