MIKE AT THE MOVIES
by MIKE ORLOCK
At 91, Clint Eastwood looks every bit his age. The lanky frame is still lean – the one that struck such a screen presence in the Man with No Name trilogy and the Dirty Harry series half a century ago and propelled him to international stardom – but the stride has shortened to a shuffle, and the instinctive moves that gave him an air of lethal unpredictability now seem measured and premeditated.
The Clint Squint is still there, burning with intensity when those eyes stare into the camera, but the face is wrinkled and leathery, the voice raspy and raw. It takes a bit of effort now for him to project, so when he delivers the kind of line that once rolled from his tongue with menacing vigor (“Go ahead. Make my day.”), he sounds like he’s reaching for something that isn’t there anymore.
Time has a way of doing that to our Hollywood heroes and legends, and Eastwood is definitely an icon as looming and provocative as John Wayne in our cultural mythology.
To say he “rides again” in his newest film, Cry Macho – which Warner Bros. is advertising as Eastwood’s first “Western” since the Oscar-winning Unforgiven 30 years ago – is a bit of a stretch. We do get to see him astride a horse (which, let’s face it, is a pretty remarkable feat for a man his age), and he improbably punches out and disarms a tough guy in one scene; but this film is about as “Western” as Eastwood’s previous movie, The Mule (2018), which had his character driving an RV across the Southwest transporting drugs for a Mexican cartel.
The story, adapted from a 1975 novel by N. Richard Nash, has Eastwood playing an old – make that ancient – rodeo star and horse trainer named Mike Milo, who’s living out his last days in the employ of a Texas rancher (Dwight Yoakam) who does shady business on both sides of the border. He twists Mike’s arm into doing him a “favor”: driving down to Mexico City to “persuade” his 13-year-old son, Rafael, to come live with him in the United States, presumably to learn the family business and inherit his birthright.
Mike senses that the story is a bit more complicated than that, and he’s proved correct when he arrives at the palatial estate of Rafael’s mother, who seems to be running a lucrative criminal enterprise of her own.
She drunkenly tells Mike that her son is a living nightmare – a street punk who’s into cockfighting – and if he can find the kid, he can have him, good riddance and all that. When she sobers up, however, she sics her goons on Mike, who has indeed found “Rafo” and persuaded him to accompany him to the border, essentially by agreeing to let the kid take his fighting rooster, Macho, along for the ride.
What follows is, by turns, a “road movie” in which Mike, Rafo and Macho bond; a “chase movie” in which Mike, Rafo and Macho elude ruthless bounty hunters and corrupt Federales; and a reverie about age and redemption in a small Mexican town near the border, where both Mike and Rafo find refuge (and a little romance) offered by a kindly widow and her family – and Macho has the run of the coop.
These three different story threads keep getting tangled with one another, and not in convincing or satisfying ways. Too often, coincidence rears its fortuitous head to solve problems that might otherwise derail Mike and Rafo’s escape to the border. Worse, when they finally get there, what happens seems both rushed and perfunctory.
Eastwood has tried to make this movie for more than 30 years. He wanted to direct the great Robert Mitchum in it, but Mitchum’s declining health and subsequent death in 1997 scuttled those plans. Maybe that film would have been the one Eastwood imagined: one that could take its place next to some of his greats, such as the Oscar winners Unforgiven, Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby and Letters from Iwo Jima, or near-greats such as Gran Torino.
But at this point, the mere fact that Eastwood, at 91, can muster the energy to both direct and star in a movie is perhaps reason enough to welcome it. He’s earned the right to fail on his own terms.
Cry Macho is rated PG-13 and is currently showing in movie theaters and streaming on HBO Max until Oct. 17.
In another lifetime, Mike Orlock wrote film reviews for The Reporter/Progress newspapers in the western suburbs of Chicago. He has also taught high school English, coached basketball and authored three books of poetry. He currently serves as Door County’s poet laureate.