If you think Dune took a while to get a remake, spare a thought for Cry Macho. N. Richard Nash’s novel was published in the 1970s, having been rejected as a screenplay, only to be optioned again as a movie due to the book’s success. Multiple attempts have been made to make an adaptation over the next 45 years, most recently with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Now, 21 years after Nash himself passed away, Clint Eastwood finally gets the tale to the big screen.
He directs and stars as Mike Milo, a faded rodeo cowboy living in the late 70s whose career derailed after the death of his family. His former employer (Dwight Yoakam) comes to him with a job: to go south of the border to Mexico and kidnap his estranged teenage son Rafo (Eduardo Minett). He finds the boy, who agrees to come with him, provided he bring his rooster, Macho. However, generational friction and Rafo’s criminal mother mean the road isn’t easy. Holed up in a small town due to car trouble, Mike gets the chance to confront his past, and teach his new companion what it is to be a man.
Cry Macho is a sedate film that evokes another time, and not just in the setting. The idea of a cowboy hiding out in a small town and helping out where he can is typically Old West, and Eastwood is in no hurry to update the formula. The Mexican characters are folksy and every-so-slightly stereotyped, and there are a lot of montages with horses set to Country and Western. This is Eastwood in a lower gear, but that’s still entertaining in a cosy kind of way.
Oscar host Billy Crystal one sang “men your age are either dead or dying – but not Clint Eastwood, you just keep rolling along!” That was 17 years ago, in 2004. Now 91, Eastwood looks incredibly frail, something that may be tough to see for those who grew up on his glory years. He shuffles along, and his voice creaks with each delivery, and even in an age of superheroes it requires a leap of faith to believe he can knock out gangsters a third his age.
However, for the most part, it works. “I don’t know how to cure ‘old’” Mike shrugs while caring for an ailing dog, and it seems to be the attitude he takes toward his performance. It fits the story in parts (he passes through the Mexican border with little trouble), and brings some soul to the reflective tone of the piece. There are small flickers of the old magic here and there that will keep fans happy, not least a charming scene where he confides in Macho in a bar.
His supporting cast are ill-served by shaky dialogue, and the need to talk around Eastwood while he glares. Minett is obnoxious in the way most 13-year-olds are, and has a refreshing lack of reverence for his prestigious co-star. Yoakam doesn’t hit the target as the employer with ulterior motives, and there is a forced romantic subplot between Mike and villager Marta (Natalia Traven) that concludes with an awkward dance.
Cry Macho is far from Eastwood’s best work, but a skilled director on an off day can still be worth watching. At 91, every film could be his last (he first played an ageing cowboy in Unforgiven, almost thirty years ago), and if this is his time to mosey off into the sunset, there are worse ways for a legend to go.