I like Clint Eastwood.
That can be a dangerous thing to admit nowadays. Clint is not a popular man on social media. The older critics have yet to forgive him for endorsing Mitt Romney over Barack Obama in 2012, despite the fact that Eastwood’s empty chair speech was quite a bit tamer than some of the other criticisms and insults that were being lobbed at both Obama and Romney at the time. The younger critics are still angry that he made Richard Jewell, a film that was seen as criticizing the press at a time when Trump was doing the same thing, this despite the fact that Eastwood never endorsed Trump in 2016 or 2020. (Beyond having a strong individualistic streak, Eastwood’s films are usually apolitical.)
He’s one of those cultural figures that drives Twitter crazy. No one can deny that he’s a film icon and that he’s directed several good and a handful of great films. But, because he doesn’t seem to care what the online crowd thinks and probably isn’t even totally sure what Twitter is, there’s this need to try to tear him down. As such, I wasn’t surprised when his latest film, Cry Macho, received mixed reviews. At this point in the game, any film that Eastwood makes is going to be criticized.
Don’t get me wrong, of course. Sometimes, the criticism is correct, even if it is more motivated by personal animus than anything else. Some of his recent films have been a bit weaker than his earlier ones. I wasn’t a fan of Jersey Boys but I figured that Eastwood was in his 80s and he probably had always wanted to do a musical and, if anyone has earned the right to cross a few things off of his bucket list, it’s Clint Eastwood. Having the three men at the center of The 15:17 to Paris play themselves is something that worked better as an idea than in the actual execution. J. Edgar was a mess and so was Hereafter.
And yet, for every weak Eastwood film, there’s also a recent film that reminds us that he’s still a good director and that he’s still far more willing to explore new territory than some of his contemporaries. The Mule is a film that, like Cry Macho, received mixed reviews but which looks better with each subsequent viewing. Sully was a moving tribute to professionalism and grace under pressure and featured one of Tom Hanks’s best performances. American Sniper was far more nuanced that most critics were willing to admit. All of these films received mixed reviews, even the Oscar-nominated American Sniper. All of them have benefitted from reevaluation.
Will Cry Macho be another Eastwood film that will be embraced in later years? It’s too early to say but I think it will be. Now, again, don’t get me wrong. Some of the criticism that the film has received is justified. In Cry Macho, Clint plays a rodeo rider who, a year after being forced to retire due to a back injury, is hired to go down to Mexico and track down Rafo (Eduardo Minett), the teenage son of a wealthy businessman (Dwight Yoakam). Clint Eastwood is 91 years old and, let’s just be honest, he looks like he’s 91 years old as well. Thirty or even twenty years ago, Clint would have been perfect for the role of Mike Milo. Today, Clint is a bit too old for the role and it’s hard not to notice that, whenever Mike does throw a punch in the film, the scene is edited so that we see the fist and we see the results of the hit but we don’t actually see the punch itself. Clint is old in this film and, even more importantly, he comes across as being old.
But you know what? It almost doesn’t matter. He may be old but he’s still Clint Eastwood. He’s a pop cultural icon. He’s a legend. He epitomizes an era that Cry Macho acknowledges is coming to an end. It’s a bit of a meandering film. Though Rafo’s mother refuses to allow him to leave with Mike, Rafo still sneaks into Mike’s truck and travels with him to the border. Along the way, some men working for Rafo’s mother try to stop them from leaving Mexico. There are a few small action scenes but they’re not what the movie is about and it’s significant that this is a rare Eastwood film in which no one, not even the main bad guy, dies. Instead, the movie is about Mike and Rafo bonding on the road and discussing what it truly means to be macho. Mike is someone who has spent his entire life being “macho” but now he’s old and he’s broken down and he’s realizing that there’s more to life than just trying to live up to some sort of idealized version of manhood. Rafo is young and Mike is very old but, over the course of the movie, they both learn the same lesson. It’s okay to just be yourself. That may be a simple lesson but it’s one worth hearing.
As a director, Eastwood leaves room for the story to wander a bit but he still keeps the action moving at a steady pace. He gets good performances out of his cast. Despite being miscast, he still manages to gets a good performance from himself, though you may cringe a little at his insistence of still trying to present himself as being a romantic lead. (This was played for laughs in The Mule.) The film’s cinematography, courtesy of Ben Davis, is breathtaking. Even while helping Rafo leave the country, Mike falls in love with Mexico and, looking at the beautiful landscapes in this film, you can’t blame him. All in all, it’s a good film. If it had been made a few decades earlier, it would have been a great film but still, this is Eastwood at his most gentle and self-reflective. Future reviewers, free from the need to appease the online mob, will appreciate this film more than the modern ones.