Running time: 104 Min. Rated: PG-13 (Language) In theaters and on HBO Max
At 91, Clint Eastwood throws a punch, rides a horse and hurls an annoying teenager out of his truck. Aging goals!
“Cry Macho,” Eastwood’s latest, is a Western set in 1979, and you might swear it was made in that decade. The soaring southwestern landscapes, slide guitar soundtrack, and gruff cowboy lead are a throwback to a leaner, less franchise-obsessed Hollywood.
The director and star, Eastwood plays Mike Milo, a retired Texas rodeo rider enlisted on a solo mission to retrieve the son of his former boss (Dwight Yoakam) from Mexico City. The screenplay’s been kicking around since the late 1980s, when Eastwood reportedly turned it down because he thought he was too young. Other actors considered it — including Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2011 — but Eastwood finally circled back. And it’s his most charming movie in years.
He directs, famously, with ruthless efficiency. You can all but hear him impatiently commanding the crew to move on to the next scene. The film opens with exposition from Yoakam’s character about Mike’s rodeo accident, addiction and loss of his son. Mike owes him one, so he’s calling in the favor to get his own son back. Information duly dispersed, Eastwood’s headed south moments later.
Mike’s target, Rafa (Eduardo Minett), is a “wild” 16 year old, according to his drunk, rich mother (Fernanda Urrejola). He’s gotten into cockfighting using a rooster named Macho, whose name inspires running commentary on the meaning, and pitfalls, of traditional masculinity.
Mike, unsurprisingly, has no time for Rafa’s B.S. Taciturn and grumpy, he bails on the assignment, then grudgingly agrees to take the kid, in a nice bit of reverse psychology. They’re plagued by car thieves, Rafa’s mom’s goons and federales, and take refuge in a dusty border town. There, they’re befriended by a restaurant owner (Natalia Traven), who takes a shine to Mike, and find work breaking wild mustangs and tending to wounded farm animals.
For all its Western trappings, “Cry Macho” is gentle at its core. Nobody gets killed. I think a punch in the nose is as violent as it gets. Macho himself doesn’t ever fight, though Eastwood gets some amusing rooster reaction shots. And Mike delivers an exasperated monologue about the inherent short-sightedness of machismo: “Only an idiot would be in that profession,” he says of his rodeo days, which ended in a broken back.
Some of the acting feels cardboard; the plot points are never shocking. Eastwood’s love interest is about four decades his junior. And yet, the director casts a Zen cowboy spell that makes it all sort of irresistible. Living at 91 never looked so good.