Clint Eastwood is 91; Cry Macho may well be his last film. Or maybe not. He has, after all, been directing himself as majestically craggy old guys for decades. Craggiest and most majestic of all, he was, in 1992, Will Munny in Unforgiven and, in 2008, Walt Kowalski in Gran Torino.
In both those films, and now in Cry Macho, he is not just craggy, he is also broken. Munny is an old, widowed gunfighter barely surviving on his pig farm in Kansas. Kowalski, also widowed, is angry with America and missing, bitterly, the great days of the Detroit car makers. And now, in Cry Macho, he is Mike Milo, widowed and a ruined rodeo star-turned-horse breeder.
He has been looking old but tough for 30 years; now he really looks old and not so tough. His chest is concave and his massive belt buckle and baggy jeans hang loosely from his hips. But the big hat signals past grandeur and his voice is still dry and raspy with a confident and, when necessary, threatening edge.
Best of all, the wisdom of the ruthless realist is just about intact. In The Dead Pool in 1988, Eastwood’s Dirty Harry delivered the line: ‘Opinions are like assholes, everybody has one’, and, ever since, we have waited for the moment pithy Clint tells it like it is. It happens in Cry Macho but the script is weak and the plot is thin so the wisdom may go unnoticed.
Mike Milo is hired by his ex-boss — played by the barely recognisable country music star Dwight Yoakam — to go down to Mexico and rescue his son Rafo (Eduardo Minett) from the clutches of his crazed mother. But Rafo has run wild, and the mother doesn’t know where he is, so, weirdly, she tries to seduce Mike instead. She fails; this makes her angry and, when Mike finds Rafo and starts driving north, she sends a couple of her sidekicks to follow them and grab the boy.
The boy had been cockfighting and he was a winner thanks to his very aggressive bird called Macho. Macho accompanies them for the rest of the film, intervening at crucial moments. The cock is an emblem of pure, untamed masculinity — useful at times but catastrophic or just annoying at others. The lesson Mike tries to teach Rafo on the road is that macho is not enough.
Running wild, Rafo was becoming merely macho. Mike, raspily, talks him out of this. To be young is to be ignorant, he suggests. You only figure it all out when you’re old but, by then, it’s too late to matter. In this Mike is at one with Walt Kowalski and Will Munny.
But those guys had big, grand stories of moral depth and ambiguity; Mike does not. Cry Macho is lumpily scripted and the plot just shifts from one minor crisis to another — each one being solved effortlessly by the heroes. Even the hoodlums dispatched by Rafo’s mother turn out to be too hopelessly incompetent to add any excitement to the story. One of them is easily disarmed by Macho the cock.
This story has been hanging around Hollywood for almost 50 years. Eastwood had been offered it before but he stuck to Dirty Harry. Then Robert Mitchum, Roy Scheider, Burt Lancaster, Pierce Brosnan and Arnold Schwarzenegger all seem to have been in the running to play Mike Milo.
If it is to be Clint’s last film, it’s a pity it’s not better. But obviously you must see it. Eastwood — and Bob Dylan is the only other great artist to have achieved this — has made old age romantic and cool. He has also celebrated America’s virtues while analysing and acknowledging her many failings. He has done enough but, still, we need more.