Old Soldiers Never Die…
Part of me wants to give this movie a five-star review for what it represents. Most likely (although we have said that before) this will be the last time Clint Eastwood headlines a movie. Given such a momentous occasion this is, one would hope it would be an occasion worth celebrating. However, as Cry Macho even alludes to, heroes just kind of go on.
Similar to how I never wanted to see Rocky Balboa again after he faded away, I was content with Clint Eastwood never stepping in front of a camera again after the masterpiece that was Gran Torino. At the time, it felt like the culmination of his career and was a perfect way to remember a film legend. Sadly, it felt like the seal was broken once he did Trouble with the Curve. Thankfully, Eastwood has stayed in the spotlight after Trouble with the Curve, and we have arrived at what I hope is his final encore.
Cry Macho feels like a movie tailor-made for Eastwood at this point in his life, which led to my surprise when I heard Schwarzenegger was once attached to the project. I picture his version being closer to what we got with The Last Stand as there were probably at least one or two action pieces scrapped once Eastwood took up the project.
Before getting too deep into the film, I want to point out that this is one of the best-looking films I have watched recently. Almost everything has a rundown, weathered look to it, which really helps echo one of the themes of the movie of how everything has a sell-by date.
The film begins in the late 70s, already taking the viewer back in time to when Eastwood was one of the biggest stars in the world. This is a little odd seeing pictures of a younger Eastwood in Western roles that are being used to pass as the main character. If they are pictures of him and his character, Mike Milo, is the same age as Eastwood, then they would have had to have been captured in the early decades of the 20th century, and they look too “new” for that to be true.
I guess we’re not supposed to believe that Milo is 90, but still too damn old to do what he was once great at. He was once a champion rodeo cowboy who transitioned to being one of the best trainers after a rodeo injury. However, he’s now yesterday’s news and the film opens with Milo getting fired by his boss, played by a bloated Dwight Yoakam who basically gives us all the exposition we need in a couple of lines. A year after being shit-canned, Yoakam’s character goes to Milo to have him bring home his estranged, half-Mexican son.
I usually find Yoakam pretty good in his roles, but he doesn’t feel like he’s giving it much effort in this film. Acting is something that never really stands out to me unless the actors make it stand out. Part of it could be the character is acting when he first goes to Milo for help with retrieving his son, Rafael, but it all seems too high school drama class to be taken seriously.
Overall, the acting of the film is on the weaker side. Eastwood gives a typical performance, but even though they don’t make too many Crystal Skull-style nods to his age in this movie, it’s hard not to take notice of it. This sometimes works in the film’s favor as when he crossed the border into Mexico, I can’t tell if Eastwood is really shaky handing over his papers or if his character is trying to act non-threatening.
Milo goes to Yoakam’s ex-wife/girlfriend’s (?) house to try and find Rafael. It’s here we learn that Milo has been conned into going on this trip, and he’s not the first person to be sent in search of the boy. We also learn that the sweet boy in the picture Milo had to track the boy down has grown up into a “wild animal” who steals and takes part in cockfighting—and not the good kind.
Milo seems to be able to track down the boy pretty easily and it doesn’t take much convincing for this “monster” to decide to go to the United States with an old man he doesn’t know.
Along with Rafael is his pet cock, Macho. This damn rooster deserves an academy award as it’s a much more likable character than Rafael can hope to be.
Returning to my criticism of the acting in this film, I understand it must be tough to hold your own on-screen with a film legend, but Eduardo Minett has all of the charisma of a rotten piece of wood. He’s not as annoying as child actors in a lot of movies, but I can’t buy him as some street thug. He’s about as menacing as a mild cause of my roids flaring up.
One of the reasons Rafael’s father wants to bring him to live with him in Texas is because his mother is abusing him. We’re led to assume she’s renting him out to paedos for their sick satisfaction, evidenced by the bruises over his body. How his father knows this is unknown as it doesn’t seem he’s had any contact with either his estranged wife or his son.
The bruises help Milo and Rafael get out of one bind, but the trauma the boy faced never really comes up again. Even the booze and drugs that apparently have plagued Milo and were the cause for his ousting at the beginning of the film never really gets brought up or seems to have any bearing on how his character acts. He does deny a drink with Rafael’s mom until he finds the boy, but he also admonishes Rafael for ordering tequila when they make a stop along the way.
When they settle down in a small outpost after their car breaks down, Milo helps train Rafael in some fundamental ranch-style tasks and makes him a decent rider. It led me to hope that they would end the movie by crossing the border on horseback against the backdrop of a setting sun, but those romantic notions have no place in this film.
Even though there is a strong archetypal father and son bond formed between Milo and Rafael, he has no interest in the passing of any torches. Rafael even asks if he can wear Milo’s hat, and after a faint glimpse that he might, Milo refuses.
The film hits all of the main points a story like this requires. We learn the tragic backstory of Milo that led him to his downfall and see his redemption by caring for a woman and her grandchildren while becoming a self-proclaimed “Dr. Doolittle” for the town and their sickly livestock. We even get the common trope of seeing the character reflected in a dog when Milo comments, “I don’t know how to fix old.”
All these bits fill a bit hollow, though, like they are necessary steps someone learned needed to be included in such a story in a Saturday afternoon screenwriting class at the local community center.
Eventually, Milo and Rafael decide they need to go, leaving behind what could be an idyllic life. In the final stretch, they get pulled over by some cops who think they are smuggling drugs before getting run off the road by a henchman looking for the boy.
I know the movie requires a bit of action, but it’s hard to suspend disbelief enough that an elderly man can be run off the road like that and just pop out of the car with no visible injuries while managing to get the drop on the henchman after a well-timed cock attack. But what do I know?
Milo delivers the boy to his father and then does a U-turn for some high-grade old lady Mexican poon.
Somewhere Along Up The Trail
We’ve seen Eastwood deconstruct the typical Western with Unforgiven, and this movie feels like an appendix to that. Rafael is so concerned with appearing macho, most likely because he’s been treated like a fleshlight for a lot of his existence, that he even named his cock that. However, as our world-weary hero points out, living a life only concerned about being the biggest, fastest, and strongest leads to misery in the end.
Having recently watched the documentary Val, I can’t help but think of the parallels not only between the actors but between their most iconic characters. Doc Holliday died in bed; a fate so unusual for his kind that they carved it on his tombstone. Eastwood, though, has remained a vibrant individual, and his character gets the storybook ending that characters like his normally don’t get in movies like these.
It may have been easy to coerce a few tears by having Milo sacrificing himself to save Rafael, but it’s a bit more poignant that once the job is finished with little fanfare that he returns to where he’ll be most happy in his final days. Like Rocky, he doesn’t die in the ring, nor does he fade away. Instead, Eastwood lets us imagine that, even when he is gone, he’ll just be down in Mexico, slow dancing to the tunes of an old jukebox.