(SPOILERS) I wouldn’t have credited the director of the very good Richard Jewell with late onset senility, but I can find little other explanation for his disastrous central casting decision, one that destroys any chance Cry Macho has for credibility or dramatic integrity. Towering hubris, perhaps, of the kind that saw Clint, in his previous starring vehicle (The Mule) proving ever-so satisfying and virile while servicing a couple of hookers. That, at least, was a mere interlude. Here we’re supposed to believe Marta (Natalia Traven, about fifty) is so desperate for companionship, she’d see a ninety-year old man as a prize catch. Or any kind of catch.
So yeah. Perhaps the hubris thing. Perhaps Clint doesn’t think he looks ninety, or moves like a ninety-year-old, or talks like a ninety-year-old. I mean, fair dues, anyone reaching that age in a fully functioning state deserves credit. Maybe, in his mind, he’s a human dynamo, but if so, he’s the only one fooling himself when he looks in the mirror. It seems he originally considered the project – an adaptation of N Richard Nash’s 1975 novel, itself based on a rejected screenplay – in the ’80s, opting for The Dead Pool instead (and why not; it boasts a classic car chase). Clint thought he was too young (at 58 or thereabouts). This wasn’t a case of a fine wine like Unforgiven, though. He wasn’t sitting on it, biding his time for that moment.
Production started with Roy Scheider (two years Clint’s junior) in 1990, but fell apart (I could find no mention of the director). Arnie was going to make it twice (in 2003 and then 2011, so around his mid-fifties or mid-sixties). You get the idea. Somewhere around Million Dollar Baby, this ceased to be a serious proposition for Clint. And yet, he persevered (“It’s fun when something’s your age, when you don’t have to work at being older”).
Paul Schrader, who knows a thing or two about indulgently shitty movies (First Reformed is a particularly steaming crock, mystifyingly venerated), took exception to Cry Macho as a whole – “It fails in every area: screenwriting, lighting, locations, sets, props, wardrobe and casting” – but focused on probably the least problematic part of Clint’s Mike Milo (“a shrunken Dirty Harry”): “Clint is given a few cliché-ridden passages about the futility of machismo but... These character insights had value 30 years ago. It was like listening to a criminal apologise to the family of his victims in hopes that the judge will cut him a lesser sentence”.
Mike’s antiquated nonagenarian holding regressive views is fairly inconspicuous when placed next to the sum total of Cry Macho’s problems. Which, rather than “every area”, come down more precisely to writing (Nick Schenk adapted the screenplay, having previously worked on Gran Torino and The Mule) and direction. None of the supporting cast are great, but since they’re required to perform their way through a series of clichés, any failings can’t really be laid at their door.
But Clint, as director, seems oblivious to Clint the actor’s inability to walk, speak, dance or ride a horse (a very obvious close up of Clint NOT rodeoing a bucking bronco) in anything other than the manner of one about to keel over permanently at any moment. This isn’t entirely Eastwood’s malaise; Scorsese seemed conspicuously indifferent to De Niro gumbying about in The Irishman, supposedly in his forties or fifties but looking not a day under seventy. We should just be grateful there was no scene of post-coital delirium with Marta (and while we’re about it, an early scene has Leta – Fernanda Urrejola, forty – throwing herself at someone about as irresistible as Julian Beck in Poltergeist II: The Other Side; in her defence, however, Leta at least appears to be completely insane).
The saddest thing is, Clint simply can’t act any more, unless he’s acting very, very old. Which is a significantly more limited range than he had only a couple of years ago. The plot itself is resoundingly dumb too, doubly emphasised by playing out in the slow motion of a ninety-year-old’s subjective space. For some reason, Dwight Yoakam considers it entirely viable to send someone who should be in an old folks’ home to Mexico, in order to retrieve his son Rafael (Eduardo Minett) from loco mum Leta. Inevitably, Mike takes his sweet time getting back, during which he mostly foils inept hoodlums – usually with the help of Rafael’s rooster Macho – and woos, in sepulchral fashion, Marta. Yeah, Clint extols “This macho thing is overrated”, but I doubt Rafael, who most likely has to escort gramps to the men’s’ room every five minutes, is under any illusions.
There might have been a movie here, had it focussed on the disparity between an old man’s fantasy of his current life versus the reality, of seeing himself dancing with a young dame or slugging a guy half his age, before realising, respectively, that he’s having his dribble dabbed or has just voided himself, but I don’t think that would be especially rewarding. Not with Clint anyway. He probably should have called it a day with Gran Torino, really. Unless he’s making The Zimmer Man, he should stay on the other side of the camera from now on.