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Movie Review: There's a tension between what's really good and what's really not good in 'Cry Macho'

Clint Eastwood and Eduardo Minett in 'Cry Macho'
Clint Eastwood and Eduardo Minett in 'Cry Macho'

Let’s get the obvious part out of the way so we can talk about what’s more interesting—yes, Clint Eastwood is old. And in his new film, Cry Macho, he’s probably doing some things that really would have worked when he was 71, but don’t work so well now that he’s 91. I do believe he could still punch me out, but I think that says more about me than him, and when you rely on some clever editing to get those punches across in a movie, it might be time to try something else.

What’s far more intriguing to me is the tension between what’s really good about Cry Macho, and what’s really, confusingly, not good.

The movie sets up like it could be a gritty thriller—Eastwood is an ex-cowboy who’s asked to go pick up a friend’s teenaged son from his mother in Mexico and bring him back to Texas. The kid is made out to be a bit of a loose cannon, though in reality he’s not, and he agrees to accompany Eastwood to the border, where his father is waiting. The boy’s mother, though, kind of is that loose cannon, and she sends a couple heavies after Eastwood, to bring the boy back to her.

Eventually, Eastwood and the boy end up in a small, quiet town, where they’re stuck for a while, and this is where the movie glows. Instead of a tense game of hide-and-seek, or whatever we might think will happen, the two make the acquaintance of a widow who runs a local restaurant, and we simply spend time there. She and her grandchildren extend kindness to the travelers, we see them eat together and learn about each other, Eastwood and the woman develop a light romance, which is sweet, even if it strains credulity just a bit. Eastwood and the boy hook up with a local ranch hand and the boy learns how to train wild horses, and we simply see them live the beats of life. This section of the movie might make some people wonder what they’re watching, but given my sensibilities, I actually would have been happy if Eastwood, as a director, had leaned even harder into this, and given up any hint of plot at all. Couple this unexpected direction with the movie’s gorgeous photography of sweeping Mexican vistas, and it had a chance to be something special.

By the time we get to the town, though, we already know what’s so very wrong with Cry Macho, because what’s so very wrong has been coming out of everyone’s mouths since the beginning. The movie opens with a long exposition dump, made up of the most surprisingly pat dialogue, and things just never get better. I almost couldn’t believe how utterly uninspired the words the characters spoke were, and how this continued for the entire film. And it’s not some exploration of minimalist writing—it’s almost as if the screenwriters put placeholder dialogue in and then never went back and punched it up before Eastwood shot the film. Any philosophical revelations are barely skin-deep platitudes, and Eastwood bizarrely announces exactly what they’re doing as they begin to do it—“This seems like an interesting town, let’s check it out,” he says, as they’re rolling into the sleepy village. “This looks like a perfect place to get out of the rain,” he says, as they seek shelter in a church. The complete lack of inspiration in the writing is all so strange it actually made me uncomfortable.

I’m not going to make any large pronouncements about where Clint Eastwood is now in his career or with his age, although I do think he missed an opportunity to really explore aging, as the 2017 movie Lucky did so well with Harry Dean Stanton at essentially the same age Eastwood is now. He’s an undeniably excellent director, and he shows as much with the tone and pacing he creates in Cry Macho. But he’s also not unassailable, and those drastic problems with this film almost overwhelm what I truly do admire about it.

Cry Macho is in theaters and on HBO Max.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.