Lou Aguilar and I are of one mind on Clint Eastwood and his most recent fine product, Cry Macho. I second his two thumbs up in his fine piece from last week.
The timeless Clint is one of the few directors remaining in Hollywood who turns out movies that are not an abuse of two hours to watch. Say what you will about the man, and liberals and assorted lefties have had a lot to say about him over the decades, he and his work are reliable. This latest, which my bride and I recently enjoyed at the local multi-plex, is no exception.
The movie, which Clint both stars in and directs, is in his usual straight-ahead, no frills style. But the macho in this movie is not Clint — Dirty Harry having long ago been retired — but a fighting rooster owned by a 13-year-old boy, Rafo, that Clint’s character, beat-up ex-rodeo rider Mike Milo, rescues from a rich and abusive dragon-lady of a mother in Mexico City and returns to his rancher father in Texas. The boy has become a burden to dragon lady mom, what with his staying away from home and backing macho in the local cock-fighting circuit. She can’t stand him but refuses to give him up because the dad wants him. She tells Mike that the boy is her “property.” The maternal instinct clearly skipped a generation in this family.
The movie, which some reviewers carp is slow, though I prefer luxuriously paced, is an on-the-road, coming of age, old-young bonding buddy story, modern western, and an unlikely romance. It’s also a chase movie, albeit one of the more leisurely chases in movie history. The two pistoleros the dragon lady sends after Milo and the boy have to be the most inept pursuers on record. They make intermittent and half-hearted attempts to intercept the two as they make their way, with little haste, back to el Norte. The attempts are easily foiled, with Macho helping out on one occasion by taking a strip out of one of the incompetents. The Federales are allegedly on the case too, though they have no more success and pursue with no more intensity than Dumb and Dumber. I don’t think I’m giving away too much here. But thanks to all this ineptness on the part of everyone on the unlikely pair’s trail, viewers get the happy ending they anticipate.
The inept chase may rely a bit on the willing suspension of disbelief. But what really strains it, at least for some, is the heart of the movie, the unlikely romance between Mike and the owner of a small cantina where Mike and Rafo fetch-up, one Marta, played charmingly by the lovely 52-year-old Mexican-born actress Natalia Traven. The movie never makes clear how old Mike is supposed to be, not necessarily Clint’s actual 91, but he’s obviously old enough to be Marta’s father with room to spare. So the already less-than-hot run to the border is put on hold for a couple of weeks for the romance to ripen and for Mike to break a couple of horses a local was having trouble with and for Rafo to learn to ride.
Some of the guys at my gym who’ve seen the movie say the Mike/Marta romance is a bigger stretch than Whoopi Goldberg in Spandex. (But these guys are a tough audience. I recently conducted on unscientific poll of my gym buddies on their approval of various individuals and articles in American life. Joe Biden, no surprise, came in two places below passing a kidney stone.)
I found the love story well done and enjoyable to watch, even if it involves an unlikely pair. And it didn’t trouble me that Marta speaks hardly a word of English during the movie. There are subtitles, but much of what goes on between the two doesn’t require translation. Mike wins Marta’s heart, and those of her granddaughters, with soft charm rather than macho posturing, which he probably couldn’t pull off at his age anyway. Though it must be said Marta doesn’t seem to need much convincing. And it’s no slighting of Mike’s qualities to say that the widow Marta’s romantic possibilities in tiny and down at heel Burro Butt, Mexico were not impressive. (Nor were Mike’s back home, come to that.)
Rafo learns from Mike a bit about the dead-end of overvaluing the cult of tough masculinity, something it took Mike decades to learn. Rafo learns this more from Mike’s example than from any sermonizing on Mike’s part. The anti-masculine crowd makes more than is there when Mike says to Rafo, “This macho thing is overrated,” and then drops the subject. But Mike is no woke creampuff. And the romance demonstrates he certainly doesn’t buy into the current obsession with androgyny that has overwhelmed the smart set. The movie, as all good movies and novels do, puts story ahead of themes. But it’s not hard to work out Mike’s continued devotion to honor and loyalty and paying one’s debts. He is on the dangerous mission to retrieve Rafo because he owes a debt to Rafo’s father for important favors rendered in Mike’s dark days after the death of his wife and children in an accident. So he can’t say no to paying his debt, even though it involves personal danger. Mike Milo’s manhood may not be Dirty Harry’s, but it’s manhood all the same.
The movie is beautifully filmed (not in old Mexico but in New Mexico) with a most pleasing soundtrack of slow country tunes and soft Mexican melodies. Compared to Clint’s cop stories and horse operas of his earlier years this is cinematic slow food. A leisurely hour and 44 minute run time that I found a pure pleasure.
Actuarial realists, with some justification, consider each new Clint Eastwood movie his swan-song. Cry Macho makes me hope there are more swans to come.
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