Cry Macho (2021) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): A leisurely sentimental drama from Eastwood

Clint Eastwood’s latest film “Cry Macho” often feels like watching an old retired master reluctantly doing another encore despite not exactly being in his best condition. Although the overall result is not without flaws to be noticed here and there, the movie shows at least that Eastwood can still work in front of and behind the camera, and that may be a consolation for you if you have admired many of his notable works as much as I have.

The movie, which is based on the 1975 novel of the same name by late N. Richard Nash, starts with establishing the shabby current status of its aging hero played by Eastwood himself. Although he was once quite a famous rodeo star in Texas, Mike Milo had to retire due to a serious back injury, and he has subsequently worked in his old friend Howard Polk (Dwight Yoakam) for years, but then there comes a point where Howard is not going to tolerate Mike’s laid-back attitude anymore. When Howard bluntly notifies that he is fired, Mike simply accepts that news, and then he goes back to his little house, which is filled with many mementos from his glorious past.

One year later, Howard unexpectedly visits Mike, and he seems to put aside the recent grudge between them just for requesting Mike to do something for him. A long time ago, Howard married some woman in Mexico and then they happened to have a son, but Howard left them when he and his wife eventually had a divorce, and now he wants to have his son back. Because he cannot go to Mexico for some business trouble, Howard asks Mike to go to Mexico City and get his son back to Texas for him, and Mike cannot say no as Howard actually helped him a lot at a certain difficult point in his life.

On the surface, the job looks like a piece of cake as Mike goes across the Mexico-US border and then drives toward Mexico City. When he eventually meets Howard’s ex-wife, she has no problem with telling him where her son is at present, and he immediately goes to a slum neighborhood where her son usually hangs around with others for cockfighting. Fortunately, it does not take much time for Mike to locate Howard’s son, and, after having a brief talk with Mike, Rafo (Eduardo Minnett) quickly agrees to go to Texas along with Mike.

Not so surprisingly, Mike soon comes to realize that the situation is more complicated than expected. When she happens to be quite pissed about Mike for a rather prosperous reason (Please don’t ask me how she can be so interested in seducing Mike, who looks like her grandfather compared to her fairly youthful appearance), Rafo’s mother, who happens to be quite affluent besides having some dangerous associates around her, turns out to be a lot more spiteful and vicious, and it also later revealed that Howard did not tell everything about his complex family circumstance.

Now this looks like a standard setup for the mix between road movie and thriller flick, but that is certainly the last thing we can expect from Eastwood. He simply lets the story roll along its predictable route, and we accordingly get a series of sensitive moments between him and Eduardo Minett as their very different characters come to connect more with each other along the story. While often annoyed with Rafo’s brash aspects besides his precious rooster for cockfighting, Mike gradually comes to care more about Rafo, and Rafo comes to learn a few lessons from Mike as Mike tells and shows him a bit about being, yes, a man.

Meanwhile, the story later comes to revolve around a small rural town due to an unexpected trouble for Mike and Rafo, and the movie becomes more relaxed and reflective than before. Thanks to a kind local woman named Marta (Natalia Traven), Mike and Rafo come to get a temporary shelter where they can stay under her protection, and it does not take much time for Mike and her to develop mutual attraction between them despite their language barrier. In addition, Mike demonstrates his particular set of skills in front of Rafo and many residents of the town, and, considering their appreciation to Mike, it seems that he and Rafo may stay a bit longer in the town.

However, what is so tenderly developed during this part is unfortunately disrupted by the jarringly uneven finale, and even Eastwood’s tactful direction does not compensate for this glaring flaw and other notable weak elements in the film. For instance, the cinematography by Ben Davis is commendable on the whole, but I must tell you that, even to a foreigner like me, many locations in the movie look more like belonging to Texas rather Mexico, and I was not so surprised at all to learn later that they actually shot the movie in New Mexico. As the center of the film, Eastwood carries the movie as much as he can, but he seems more tired and detached even compared to his previous acting turn in “The Mule” (2018), and the other cast members including Dwight Yoakam and Natalia Traven are mostly stuck in their thankless supporting roles.

On the whole, “Cry Macho” is a bit too flawed to engage me, but I also admire how Eastwood, who had the 91th birthday several months ago, has kept going as usual even while apparently going through the last phase of his filmmaking career. He is still a master in my inconsequential opinion, and I can only hope that his long and respectable filmmaking career will not be ended with this rather disappointing minor work.

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