At 91-years-old, Clint Eastwood could easily call himself the last man standing. Few other Hollywood stars who shared the screen with him throughout his 65-year career (especially during his run of Westerns during the 1960s and 70s) are still around, yet Eastwood has sustained his legendary (perhaps macho?) status mainly through consistency.
He would have a new movie out every year, sometimes two in the same year, that he was either acting in, directing, or both. But of course that brings up the question: how does it end? Will Eastwood be self-aware enough to know when to bow out of his film career or will we have to brace ourselves for the possibility that every new Eastwood movie could be his last?
Well, we have a new Clint Eastwood movie out now and he certainly seems to be setting up a goodbye. Based on the novel by the late N. Richard Nash, Cry Macho sees Eastwood back in the director’s chair and the leading role of an aged Texas horse breeder, Mike Milo, in 1979.
He’s lonely, bitter, and forever haunted by a back injury from his rodeo days that cost him more than a showbiz career. He’s also being hounded by his old boss (Dwight Yoakam), who asks Mike to go into Mexico and retrieve his young son. But when Mike meets Rafo (Eduardo Minett) during an illegal cock fight, he’s greeted with a fellow, angry spirit shunned by his family with only a prized rooster named Macho at his side. Nevertheless, Mike and Rafo try their damndest to evade bad guys and make it back over the border.
The last time we saw Eastwood on a movie screen was 2018’s The Mule, one of his more tonally-askew endeavors that couldn’t decide whether a 90-year-old horticulturist becoming a drug smuggler was funny or serious. Eastwood followed that in the director’s chair with Richard Jewell, which leaned so far into conservative American paranoia that it harked back to his infamous verbal spat with “Barack Obama” nine years ago.
Rest assured, Cry Macho has no political agenda and knows exactly what it is: a somber, pseudo-Western about two lost souls journeying together to find themselves. It moves at a relaxed pace for its 104-minute runtime and only has occasional comedic moments brought on by the sweetness of Eastwood’s kindly aged demeanor. You’ve likely seen a couple movies just like Cry Macho; hell, Eastwood has done movies with the same basic themes as Cry Macho (Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby), and this one doesn’t add much to the formula.
The film is occasionally nice to look at with Eastwood and his cowboy hat silhouetted by dimming street lights or the crisp sunset courtesy of cinematographer Ben Davis (Guardians of the Galaxy, Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri). Even the score from Mark Mancina (Moana) has a cool, Western twang to it as our heroes trudge their way out of Mexico.
At its core, Cry Macho doesn’t have too much else to say or offer in terms of entertainment. We’ve seen Eastwood go from bitter old crank to reformed, wise elder many times before in multiple scenarios, seemingly as a tee-up to him stepping away from the pedestal he and others have put him on over the last 30 years. And yet he just can’t walk away, let alone try something new. At least Cry Macho doesn’t have an angry tone to its lead, being more about the journey of finding oneself, regardless of age.
Plus, Eastwood and screenwriter Nick Schenk (Gran Torino, The Mule) don’t portray Mike as a righteous know-it-all and more like a world-weary journeyman doing what he can to make sense of the world. But Cry Macho can’t shake off the blasé nature of its events. Nothing about Mike or Rafo’s character developments are exciting or insightful, while their chemistry together is lukewarm at best. The movie’s resolution is so bland and matter-of-fact that it feels like the ending to an episode of Rawhide more than it does a satisfying conclusion to a roadtrip of discovery, making the audience wonder if all Mike needed to improve his mood was a vacation.
That lighter mood does him wonders though. For all the jokes made from him reviving the old crank catchphrase of “get off my lawn,” Eastwood is at his best these days when he’s relaxed and trying to charm more than intimidate. He’s actually quite warm and inviting as a broken cowboy with little hints of hurt every time something is taken from him. Though he gets some form of a happy ending, he never gives the impression of earning it or having some kind of revelation of what he has to do after he brings Rafo home. While he doesn’t have much chemistry with Minett, the younger actor still has a lot of gusto on his own and actually carries most of the plot along. The same can’t be said for Yoakam, who gives some of the laziest exposition dumps ever seen in a movie with this much pedigree.
We will likely never know what Eastwood’s last ride will actually be until he (or his obituary) tells us. But Cry Macho certainly looks like Eastwood is quietly tipping his cap to the world as he rides off into the sunset. The past 20 years have been some of the most interesting of Eastwood’s whole career, and maybe when we all look back on his legacy as a whole, Cry Macho could be seen as an odd footnote to his time as Western movie icon. For now, it’s merely a pleasant, but inessential character drama from someone who doesn’t want to dig deeper than what makes him feel comfortable. Perhaps Eastwood doesn’t want to be seen as this towering figure of American culture anymore, instead just a traveling storyteller wandering from place to place looking for somewhere to rest.
Cry Macho is now in theaters and streaming on HBO Max until October 17. Watch the official trailer here