Throughout his career, Clint Eastwood has played a variety of tough guys. The actor-turned-director thrived in his career playing macho men who weren’t willing to back down from tough fights. It’s interesting then that Eastwood strives the deconstruct the image of tough men in his new drama Cry Macho.
Eastwood plays Mike Milo, a former rodeo star long past retirement. Like the actor himself, Mike received great acclaim for performing as a man willing to take on mighty challenges but his days as a "macho" leading man are behind him.
That changes when Mike's old friend Howard Polk (Dwight Yoakam) approaches him with a request. Howard’s thirteen-year-old son Rafo (Eduardo Minett) is in Mexico living with his unstable mother. Because Howard can’t return to Mexico (due to legal issues), he enlists Mike’s help to cross the border and bring his son back to Texas. “You gave me your word and that used to mean something, Mike,” Howard says.
That sets Mike up on a trip across the border. Interestingly enough, Rafo isn’t as hesitant to leave Mexico as the original premise sets up. In fact, he's living on the streets rather than stay in his mother's palatial home. (“On the street, I trust no one but it’s safer than home,” he says.)
The film isn’t about Mike convincing Rafo to leave Mexico. It’s about their journey towards the border and the relationship that develops along the way. Mike, an older man with a storied history as a cowboy and a rodeo performer, has a history of machismo that Rafo only dreams of but talks to Rafo about what it all means in the long-term. “This macho thing is overrated,” Mike says. In that way, Eastwood seems to be stepping back from his image as a tough guy and showing that there's more to life than the appearance of machismo.
The plot itself is slow-moving and meandering. However, there’s a lot of heart in this story about two men reaching pivotal moments in their lives and when the duo get stuck in a Mexican, there’s a sweet subplot about Mike’s budding relationship with a restaurant owner named Marta (Natalia Traven). A lot of time is spent in the small Mexican town and looking back, it feels like the story could've worked better if more of the film was spent in this small community (instead of the film taking its time getting there).
That being said, both Eastwood and Minett do solid work in their leading roles. Eastwood makes his performance look easy — taking on the role of a retired man coming to terms with his life's choices and decisions — while Minett reveals himself as a solid performer, revealing a character struggling to find his own unique place in the world.
Cry Macho won’t likely be considered in Eastwood’s top tier of films but it’s a solid entry in his filmography: a gentle, quiet and sobering look at what being “macho” truly means.
The film is in theaters now and also available on HBO Max.