Nothing brings authenticity like firsthand experience. No matter how much an actor prepares, there are some things in life that can’t be brought to the screen until they’ve been lived. What I’m saying is, no one but 90-year-old Clint Eastwood could have directed or starred in Cry Macho.
The film opens in 1979 with Mike (Eastwood) getting fired by his old friend Howard Polk (Dwight Yoakam), and picks up a year later when Polk needs a favor. Backstory is laid on so thick in the dialogue it’s embarrassing. It’s so bad that some viewers might give up before the story even gets started. Thankfully, it gets better.
Polk wants Mike to go down to Mexico and rescue his teenage son Rafo (Eduardo Minett) from the boy’s alcoholic mother (Fernanda Urrejola) and her abusive boyfriends. Mike is understandably reluctant. While his age is never mentioned, he just doesn’t see why he’s being asked to go. But Polk reminds Mike that he owes him a favor and assures him that the boy will respond best to an authentic cowboy. With that, Mike heads south. Finding Rafo turns out to be fairly simple. The boy is fighting his rooster, Macho, at a cantina.
After hearing all of Mike’s promises about life in Texas, Rafo agrees to cross the border as long as he can bring his pet bird. However, it turns out that Polk wants to use the boy to leverage financial interests away from his ex-wife, and she’s not as disinterested in her son as she seems. With her thugs on their tail, and getting into Texas impossible, the old man and the boy lay low in a small Mexican village. For the first time Rafo experiences peace, and Mike falls in love with the owner of the local restaurant (Natalia Traven).
It might sound like a Hallmark movie, but be forewarned: Mike snarls profanities and makes the sort of off-color jokes you’d expect from a cowboy.
Like many boys his age without male role models, Rafo is trying to figure out what it means to be a man. When he says to Mike with admiration, “You used to be strong, macho,” he could be talking about Eastwood himself.
“I used to be a lot of things. But I’m not now,” Mike says. “This macho thing is overrated. Just people trying to be too macho to show they’ve got grit. That’s about all they end up with. It’s like anything else in life. You think you got all the answers. Then you realize, as you get older, you don’t have any of them.”
In other words, calling a chicken Macho still doesn’t make it anything more than a silly bird.
Mike might not have answers, but he lives by a code. He commits to finishing a job. He defends the weak. He’s kind to animals, respectful to women, and bows his head in prayer despite his doubts. It’s the stuff of classic cowboys like Roy Rogers, and it’s the example Rafo needs.
There are references to Jesus and the Virgin Mary as well as mealtime prayer in one scene, and a discussion about the existence of God in another scene. Overall, the movie has a redemptive arc that fits well into the theme song that says, “It’s never too late to find a new home.” (Rated PG-13, Apple TV+, Amazon Prime)