Cry Macho

Let’s set aside the fact that Clint Eastwood is 91 this year for the moment.

“Cry Macho,” which hits theaters and HBO Max today, was not Eastwood’s first rodeo with this material. The script for “Cry Macho” goes all the back to the early ’70s when the screenplay, then known as “Macho,” was rejected by Twentieth Century Fox twice. N. Richard Nash, who wrote the original screenplay, turned it into a novel in 1975 and it became a hit, having been optioned by Albert S. Ruddy.

Eastwood was offered the chance to star in the proposed film in 1988 but turned it down, instead opting to reprise the Harry Callahan role in “The Dead Pool.” Multiple attempts resumed over the years with stars Robert Mitchum, Burt Lancaster, Pierce Brosnan, and even Arnold Schwarzenegger, eventually sitting idle until Eastwood was again approached for the project. In a recent interview, Eastwood said he, “always thought I’d go back and look at that. It was something I had to grow into. One day, I just felt it was time to revisit it. It’s fun when something’s your age, when you don’t have to work at being older.”

Now at age 91, Eastwood is quite literally back in the saddle. The “Cry Macho” screenplay is written by Nick Schenk and (posthumously) N. Richard Nash, based on Nash’s novel. Mike Milo is your typical Eastwood character – down on his luck, having suffered a devastating life event costing his marriage, and his job. The film opens with a lecture by Howard Polk played by Dwight Yoakam, in which the dead-end Milo is asked to pack up his things and get off his ranch.

Time is not a factor for this film, everything seems to move by at a rather leisure pace for this broken stallion, when Polk approaches Milo for a job, saying Milo owes Polk for everything he did to help Milo. Sensing he’s boxed into a corner, Milo heads south of the border to retrieve Polk’s son, Rafo, played by newcomer Eduardo Minett.

There’s just one thing: Rafo, who has been reportedly abused by Polk’s ex-wife, Leta (Fernanda Urrejola) is on the lamb, taking after his parent’s wild lifestyles. Eastwood’s direction is steady, his canvas wide in relation to his recent films such as “The 15:17 to Paris,” “The Mule,” and “Richard Jewell.” Say what you want about Eastwood as a person or his politics, the man can still make a movie at 91.

It does have familiar Eastwood tropes, his trademark. What made “Cry Macho” a solid late-career entry for this critic, is Eastwood’s attention to the landscape, its unforgiving desolation, its impact on the flow of the story. The script isn’t as on point as “The Mule” or “Richard Jewell,” however Eastwood was right – he was the perfect age to play this role. As for Minett, as Rafo, he was the polar opposite to Eastwood’s Milo, something the redemptive character arcs account for.

What we come to realize is that Milo and Rafo need each other, more than they realize. Natalia Traven as Marta is the key to both character’s respective arcs, and she fills the role admirably. Urrejola is unrelenting in her performance, both in her beauty and in her vengeance.

Not every element in the story works, but it isn’t the story that carries the lessons. “Cry Macho” is very much a character-driven story.

What should be a “road trip” style film, turns into a life lesson for any age. Eastwood engaged Mark Mancina for the score, its guitar strings permeating the film with a lush passion. Eastwood regulars Joel and David Cox find an economy in their editing, something that hides the $33 million budget exceptionally well.

“Cry Macho” is yet another tank of gas in Eastwood’s motor, and I suspect we’ll get more films from him, certainly behind the camera. Personally, I’d like to be writing film reviews at his age. The beauty of what Eastwood does now, compared to what he did in the 60s–90s is that he exudes a playful youth-like quality. He understands there will be bumps in the road. If “Cry Macho” is a bump in his road, it is one that I’ll gladly recommend.