On a recent podcast, Quentin Tarantino mused about how the creative reputations of aging film directors would have been improved if they had just stopped directing before the quality of their films began to slide. What if Alfred Hitchcock stopped after “The Birds”? What about George Cukor after “My Fair Lady” and Billy Wilder after “The Fortune Cookie”? I would argue that I would rather see a bad Alfred Hitchcock film than no Alfred Hitchcock film, but it is true that as they age, film directors tend to lose some of their oomph and relevance.
Then, there’s Clint Eastwood, arguably the greatest movie star/director hybrid of all time. A career like Clint Eastwood’s has earned the right to a considerable amount of forgiveness for questionable creative choices and the occasional total misfire. So what is one to do about “Cry Macho,” which is undoubtedly one of the weakest films in Eastwood’s esteemed and enviable career? Well, don’t see the movie for one if you want your memory of his work to remain back when you loved him most.
Eastwood plays Mike Milo, an aged rodeo cowboy with not much going on. He is convinced by his former boss Howard Polk (Dwight Yoakam) to drive to Mexico City (why he can’t just hop a plane is not revealed) to pick up Polk’s teenage son Rafo (Eduardo Minett) from the clutches of his rich, drugged-out and neglectful mother (Fernanda Urrejola) and return him to Texas. Does Polk have an ulterior motive? What do you think?
In truth, most of “Cry Macho” plays out as predictably as Polk’s duplicity. About a third of the way through the film, any reasonable person can see that the end of the film is a foregone conclusion; don’t look for any third-act surprises here. The beats of the storytelling fall into place like the work of an A student in a screenwriting class, and not a cliché is wasted. Corrupt Mexican policemen? You got it! An abusive ersatz stepfather who beats children, wears leather pants and scowls a lot? Yep! A lovely and lonely widow who can cook AND dance? You came to the right place! This isn’t just well-worn territory; it’s worn out.
Everything in the film seems to be shot at half-speed. Eastwood can be forgiven for moving a little slowly, but the whole film is like that. Even Minetti as the teenage boy seems hampered by the pace of the storytelling, and the wooden dialogue is no help. Minetti may be a talented young actor, but you wouldn’t know it here by the forced and phony lines he’s asked to perform. The same can be said of every major characterization: It’s all very canned and counterfeit — more like a student film than the late work of a master. The one saving grace is Natalia Draven as a local cantina owner. She brings genuine life to an otherwise pretty sluggish experience.
To Eastwood’s credit, it is inconceivable that any other major film star would put him or herself in front of an audience at 91. Would John Wayne have done that? Will Tom Cruise? Not likely in either case. But, here comes Eastwood as trim and leathery as ever, and it is great to see him on-screen again, even in an inferior vehicle. His may be the single greatest career in the history of American film, and one has to give him credit for continuing to look for creative inspiration and ways to express himself both in front of the camera and behind it. He certainly has nothing to prove.
Still, that doesn’t earn him a free pass, although like Hitchcock, I’d rather see a bad Clint Eastwood film than no Clint Eastwood film at all.
Warner Brothers Pictures
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Rated PG-13 (thematic elements; language)
Now showing at Laemmle Newhall and Regal Edwards Valencia; streaming on HBO Max
Jed Blaugrund is an English teacher at West Ranch High School, and a resident of Stevenson Ranch. Before becoming a teacher, he graduated from the USC School of Cinema/Television and worked for more than 20 years in the film business.