Still Figuring It Out

Still Figuring It Out
On the strange lows of Cry Macho and how the beauty of its late-style candidness overcomes them 

There was a lot of hype online for Clint Eastwood’s Cry Macho (2021)—the title promised so much from his third or fourth swan song—but despite the expected pleasurable slightness and slow pace, some of that anticipation seemed to diffuse. Certainly it’s nothing like as bold as The 15:17 to Paris (2018), cinematographer Ben Davis, who shoots a lot of Marvel films, wouldn’t allow the rough, unfussy images of that film. Instead Cry Macho is the type of film to have a shot where rays of sunlight blast into the lens in the tiny gap between Clint’s hand and the horse he’s petting; more sentimental and ‘pretty’ an image than I ever want to see in his late-style films.

A bad script hasn’t always come in the way of a great film, especially for Eastwood, but dialogue  like “yeah… that was before the accident” doesn’t make it any easier, and in case it wasn’t clear we are shown it with this tacky zoom into a newspaper photo as it start to move. Then, in that mid-point lull when characters are expected to open up to each other, Clint tells Rafo (Eduardo Minett) the teenage boy he’s trying bring back to his father from across the Mexican border about it, and you can’t help but feel it would have been more effective if we too found out now; this closed, hardened character opening up to the him and to us. Nick Schenk & N. Richard Nash have written the kind of script that imagines it only exists on paper, everything is printed in words and in dialogue, it assumes nothing could be inferred from the images; as Clint starts to grow on the punky kid he tells him “you’re growing on me kid”.

From an early shot of Clint driving alongside wild horses it seems this might be more a vanity project than a bittersweet goodbye. A hero shot of someone who looks this frail and old would seem like a joke, or at least a subversion in most contexts but here, Clint’s trying to prove he’s still got it, multiple women want to fuck him, so much so that his disinterest in sleeping with Rafo’s Mother, the incredibly beautiful, forty year old Fernanda Urrejola is what really kicks the drama off; she didn’t seem much interested in the fate of her Son before, now she threatens to hunt both of them down. But in that opening up scene, we see Clint sitting in darkness and I don’t think think anymore has ever looked so old on screen. It’s so unadorned and so uninflected that it becomes visceral, it shows a casual honesty and almost comfort in his deep wrinkles and blotchy skin that washes away any mythologising; in front of you is a ninety year old man with not much time left.

Though the film is less about ageing textually than it inherently is meta-textually, towards the end there is some philosophising about how he “used to be a lot of things, but [he’s] not now”, but the narrative is more interested failure and redemption. The reason he went to get this kid in the first place was because he owed his Father (Dwight Yoakam) for picking him up after that much mentioned accident, but that must have been twenty years ago and it’s not clear what Clint’s done with that time. I imagine the character is supposed to be a good bit younger because when he starts a new life, you can’t help but wonder how long it could really last.

Clint ends up staying with Marta (Natalia Traven) a bar owner in the town they get stuck in for a lot of the film, and only such minimal directing could sell them falling in love across languages, the soppy music fights against it but it just about works. In part because there is such a deep and genuine affection for these run-down Mexican towns, Rafo says it might even be better than Texas and Clint, both in-character and out, mutters that it “could be”.

When the tropes of the white-guy-meets-foreigner moves are not ignored, they are gently subverted, when Rafo tells Clint which cactus to eat, it’s just a prank, it tastes disgusting. He doesn’t really know, he not some wise savage, closer to mother nature or whatever, he’s just a kid.  In one scene, the Mother’s goons try to turn racial hatred onto the ‘gringo’ Clint, accusing him of kidnapping the kid in front of a notable little crowd. They turn, moving ominously forward, but when Rafo shows them his bruises, they beat up the goons instead. Human kindness is deeper than race; maybe that’s an old school way to think about it, but none the less a deeply felt one. In the end as much as a film about ageing or failure, it’s a film about how beautiful Mexico is; there's certainly more of it between the skeletal structure of the script, and in these spaces inbetween, the film breathes.

The final scenes still try to wrap up the meta-textual element when Clint tells Rafo that “this macho thing is overrated” and that wanting to be a rider in a rodeo makes you an idiot. But when they’re pushed off the road by one last goon and held at gunpoint, Rafo’s fighting cock Macho saves them, and in case it wasn’t clear this was symbolic, Rafo reiterates “he’s not a chicken, he’s macho”. The ending splits the difference with Clint throwing that lifestyle away to stay with his new family in Mexico, and Rafo goes back to America with his father whose motivations are revealed to be some ambiguous mix of paternal and financial. He only ever agreed to go, to get off the streets and follow Clint so that he could be a cowboy like him, that he could be macho. And maybe that’s a mistake, maybe he’s going to make all those same mistakes for himself. Or maybe Clint’s being too hard on himself, clearly he can’t say for sure, and if he can’t at this point, he’ll never be able to.


Notes:

1 — N. Richard Nash, wrote the source novel in 1975 after failing to get it produced as a screenplay. After the novels success, he sold the same script and it has been in the works to some degree ever since, failed attempts were made with Roy Scheider, Pierce Brosnan & Arnold Schwarzenegger, amongst others.

2 — There’s another particularly funny moment where Clint’s character is allegedly breaking in a wild horse, shot from the distance you’d imagine with ‘cool’ rock music blasting underneath.

3 — Eastwood was in fact first offered the role in the late 80’s.