There was a time when Clint Eastwood, in the vigorous youth of say five years ago, was famous for whacking lines and pages of extraneous dialogue from any script he was acting in and/or directing.
That’s far from the case in “Cry Macho,” an absurdly chatty melodrama that shows Eastwood at his most enfeebled, making a screen elegy with little elegance, no pace, little excitement and the kind of clock-watching boredom that One Take Clint wouldn’t stand for on his set, much less sit through in a theater (or on HBO Max) himself.
“This looks like an interesting town,” his character, Mike Milo observes as he drives the teen (Eduardo Minett) he’s delivering from Mexico to the kid’s father (Dwight Yoakam) on the other side of the border.
Mike says he’s going to take a nap, to which the kid prattles, “Tired, eh? Old man needs a nap?”
Yeah. It’s what he just said. And that town? The camera shows us how “interesting” it might (or might not) be. Another statement of the obvious.
That sort of inane clutter is nothing compared to what screenwriter Nick Schenk (“Gran Torino,” “The Mule”), working from a novel by the late N. Richard Nash, saddles poor Yoakam with. Playing a wealthy horse trader and rodeo owner, Yoakam’s first pages are all exposition, giving Mike’s entire history, “before the accident” and “after the pills and the booze.” Yoakam’s Howard Polk character is filling in the story almost all the way to the final credits, half-hearted rants that begin with “You OWE me” and finish with LONG explanations of why that might be.
The movie Eastwood was angling for was an elegy to machismo, with maybe a hint of whimsy as an old man passes life lessons on to an impressionable boy. But in his stooped, sunken-cheeked state, there’s not much he can do with a line like “I used to be a lotta things, but not now.”
Parking him in a 1970s Chevy Suburban, the ancient tough guy can barely see over the steering wheel. He’s 91 trying to pass for 70something. And he can’t.
An opening scene set in 1979 has aged Mike showing up late to Howard Polk’s ranch, enduring a pointless, exposition-filled chewing out, and getting fired. It takes the entire opening credits to set up, and a couple of pages of Yoakam chewing to get through.
And it’s almost pointless. “One year later” Howard’s in Mike’s house, giving him the “you owe me” speech, asking (not hiring) him to go south of the border and fetch Polk’s estranged son from his “nutcase” Mexican mother.
Mike reluctantly agrees, drives South and promptly stumbles into a posh party at her lavish estate, where he’s captured by her hirelings. And then Leta (Fernanda Urrejola) proceeds to try and ply Mike with drinks and throw herself at the Gringo Viejo, who must be twice her age.
Feel free to slap yourself on the forehead over that. But not too hard. Another woman does the same in the second act.
The kid? He’s gone bad, “cock-fighting” and what not. But sure, if you can find him, take him away, Leta says.
She’s not serious about wanting the 13 year-old sent away, and the script and performance aren’t serious about how “bad” this kid is.
Rafa (Minett) dotes on his rooster, “Macho,” caves in to the whole “come live with your dad” pitch in an instant, even though he “hates” him, and generally gives the old man and the viewing audience nothing to grab hold of as “conflict” between the cuddly, weakened old cowboy and the kid, who is a pussycat. Minett comes off as “child actorish.” He’s as tough as a Disney Channel tween.
Things happen to trap them in Mexico in that “interesting” town they pass through. That’s where cafe owner Marta (Natalia Traven) doesn’t let the language barrier stand in the way of becoming smitten with Mike, whose “way with animals” gives him the chance to break a few more horses, teach the kid to ride and literally lay his hands on injured goats and elderly dogs, an aged healer from Texas bringing comfort to this tiny hamlet.
As unthreatening as Mike is in his advanced years — Eastwood walks gingerly these days — nothe Mexican bad guys crumble in his presence. Repeatedly.
The man’s lived his whole life in Texas ranch country, and doesn’t speak a word of Spanish (no subtitles are added, a nice touch). But damned if he didn’t he learn ASL somewhere along the way.
The character isn’t as interesting as he might have been, and the kid is barely worth the effort listening to his conversation requires, for Mike or the viewer. As was just as obvious in “The 15:17 to Paris,” One Take Clint is not a good fit with a young actor who could use help with his performance, the benefit of a second, third or fifth take to give the camera something interesting.
The plotting and a couple of the performances are straight out of vampy, overwrought telenovelas. Eastwood has slowed down and lost chunks of technique just in the short time since playing “The Mule.” But let’s not blame the players for the instantly-insipid script that Schenk tempted Eastwood with, like Tom Selleck peddling “reverse mortgages” to gullible seniors.
Truth be told, the damned rooster, who never gets into a cockfight but goes after anybody who threatens young Rafa, steals the movie. Pity he isn’t billed.
Time was when Eastwood would dare to allow silence to do his talking, stillness to set the tone and his spare style to hide his polished technique. Now, he can’t be bothered to disguise anything.
“Let’s talk,” the kid says when he and Mike first meet. “Not here,” Mike says, and you can see Clint-the-director in a rush to get another location in, trying to lend color to the next banal conversation he must realize he’s got to get through, because he’s forgotten he wouldn’t have to get through them if he whittled things down.
That editing made many a screenwriter seem sharper and more profound than was warranted, a way Eastwood protected them from their worst impulses and made lean, flinty dramas and thrillers.
Here, he doesn’t protect anybody — not the green, subtlety-impaired kid, not the writer and not himself.
A screen elegy is supposed to make you sad and warm and give the viewer an appreciation for all this character and the actor playing him was, and a little of what remains.
“Cry Macho” just generates pity.
Rating: PG-13, for language (profanity) and thematic elements
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Fernanda Urrejola, Eduardo Minett, Natalia Traven and Dwight Yoakam.
Credits: Directed by Clint Eastwood, scripted by Nick Schenk and N. Richard Nash. A Warner Brothers release.
Running time: 2:05