The film’s introduction to Eastwood — bent and slow — is jolting, even though he’s been aging before our eyes for six decades. But that actually works as his character, Mike Milo, starts to rediscover his self-worth to become gradually stouter and tougher. Milo only agrees to bring back the 13-year-old son of his rancher ex-boss, Polk (Dwight Yoakam), after Polk invokes the ultimate western code to both him and the audience battered by “toxic” male bashing: “You gave me your word, and that used to mean something.”
Only one man in Hollywoke today could make a movie as old-fashioned, straightforward, and ultimately uplifting as Cry Macho, and trigger half a dozen progressive landmines in 104 minutes. On the surface it’s the simple tale of a broken-down old Texas cowboy who goes to Mexico City to half-rescue, half-kidnap a rich rancher’s troubled son from his nefarious ex-wife. But deep down, it’s an elegiac cinematic poem about manhood old and young, womanhood, regret, loneliness, and second chances. Clint Eastwood corrals all those wild horses on both sides of the fence, as a marvelous director and an onscreen icon — sadly the last of the latter — while bucking the politically correct wallow of his Industry peers.
For Cry Macho is a western, despite the modern trappings of cars and phones. That is a forbidden genre to Hollywoke because men are men and women are women, hard as it has tried to inject feminism into it with pathetic results (The Quick and the Dead, Bad Girls, Godless). And if there’s any genre Clint Eastwood is a master of, it’s the western. He’s been making them off and on for 65 years. Now he’s added a fine contemporary one to his legacy.
Cry Macho presents classic elements of the form, like the hero’s odyssey through a savage land where life is cheap and law unreliable to re-civilize a youth gone native. Modern Mexico, alas, supplies this aspect, which Eastwood unflinchingly captures. Any similarity to The Searchers is not coincidental. Some 20 years ago, Ridley Scott wanted Clint to star in a remake of the John Ford classic which Scott would direct. Tempted, Eastwood pondered six months of horse riding like he could once do in his sleep, and gave Scott a typical short answer. “Can’t do it, Ridley.” Although his Cry Macho character does ride a horse, at age 91 Eastwood wisely let his stuntman take the saddle.
Other liberal-exploding western tropes prominent in the new picture include male bonding, the man-boy tutor dynamic, hostile natives, religious respect, and the duality of women between either the carnal saloon girl or the nurturing matriarch.