Friday, 02 December 2022

‘Cry Macho’ a sentimental journey for an old cowboy


At the age of 91, Clint Eastwood is not just an institution but an actor and director, performing double duty in his latest film “Cry Macho,” with an apparent desire to outlast all of his contemporaries.

We should not begrudge Eastwood’s wish to keep working; instead, his work ethic is something to be admired. While he will never play Dirty Harry again, nor appear in a spaghetti western, his characters will likely be more like the ones in “Gran Torino” and “The Mule.”

The artwork for the film’s poster features an iconic pose of Eastwood that suggests a throwback to his early Westerns, but “Cry Macho” is not the story of a righteous gunslinger roaming the range.

“Cry Macho” is the right fit for him at this point in his career. Eastwood’s Texas cowboy Mike Milo is a former rodeo star and has-been horse breeder who, in 1979, reluctantly takes an assignment from his old boss to venture south of the border.

Wealthy rancher Howard Polk (Dwight Yoakum), a year after firing Mike as his horse trainer, comes to him for the dubious task of retrieving his estranged teenage son Rafo (Eduardo Minett) from the care of his crazy Mexican ex-wife Leta (Fernanda Urrejola) in Mexico City.

While Mike has no particular fondness for his old boss, he feels obligated to return a favor to the person who gave him a job after a severe injury ended his riding career, which was followed by the loss of his wife and son.

One senses that the long drive on the dusty roads all the way to Mexico City presages a rockier trip back home after arriving at the destination of Leta’s mansion where the boy’s decadent and alcoholic mother is protected by menacing bodyguards.

Leta warns that Rafo is a delinquent who has a passion for entering his prize fighter rooster named “Macho” in illegal cockfights. Rafo could be involved in other illicit affairs, but mama seems not to care.

When Mike resists a drunken advance in her bedroom, Leta is no longer hospitable, and at this point it’s also fairly evident that she will become vengeful and task one of her henchmen in pursuit back to the border.

As the kid survives on the streets of the big city, Rafo is quickly found at a cockfight and proves reluctant at first to go with Mike to Texas until a tentative bond is formed with the promise of having his own horse on a ranch.

What happens next is a journey through the back roads where delays occur because of transportation difficulties and pursuit by the federales and Leta’s thug, the latter discovering that the aging Mike still has a nice right hook.

That the nonagenarian still has a few moves, as unlikely that may be in the romance department, becomes part of the story when Mike and Rafo stumble upon a desert small town where the cantina is run by the widowed Marta (Natalia Traven).

Enjoying the hospitality afforded by Marta, a woman about half the age of Mike who is also raising her orphaned granddaughters, the two travelers decide to hang around the village for a while, even camping out on the benches of a small church.

Perchance, Mike enjoys the flirtation that blossoms with the cantina owner. Other things bind him to the village. Mike finds purpose with helping a local to tame some wild horses, and pretty soon he becomes a Dr. Dolittle by helping others with their sick pets and farm animals.

The chemistry between the veteran cowboy and the kid may seem perfunctory but it revolves around the trust that comes from overcoming shared adversities on the road, and with Mike imparting occasional wisdom such as saying “the macho thing is overrated.”

With Mike and Rafo spending so much time together, conversation turns to forming a bond where the two learn something from each other. When the kid claims Mexicans ride horses better than gringos, Mike quickly reminds him that he’s half-gringo.

The heart of the film is most moving and satisfying during the sojourn in the small dusty town, where Mike connects easily with people who don’t even speak English or when he communicates with one of Marta’s deaf grandchildren through sign language.

Other than a thug trying to tangle with Mike or suspicious federales poking around, “Cry Macho” is devoid of gunfights, brawls, exciting car chases and other staples of an action film.

Clint Eastwood has directed a slow-paced trip through the picturesque desert terrain that would be fitting for a Western, but it’s a sentimental journey of redemption and second chances for both the cowboy and the kid.

The wisdom of “Cry Macho” comes when Mike says to Rafo, “You think you have all the answers, but then you get older and realize you don’t have any. By the time you figure it out, it’s too late.” Let’s hope it’s not too late for Eastwood to turn out more films.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.

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