Saturday, September 18, 2021


How lucky for Clint Eastwood that he’s now in his eighth decade making movies. And how lucky for us he’s matured into a fine grandfatherly paragon of cinema. To see him emerge on screen in another aged role of grit and melancholy is to see a fading monument to a passé brand of masculinity. We remember the roles of violence and determination in his past. We see him now, silhouetted against a painterly sunset or turned sideways in a plot others would approach head on, and from certain angles it looks like he’s frail, stumbling, disappearing into ever-deeper wrinkles and wispier hair. In profile he looks like the Old Man of the Mountain (before it collapsed, natch). He’s in total control of how he looks here, at once strong and weak. Having directed himself many times over the decades, he well knows how to use his iconographic qualities. He knows we know he was once the Man with No Name, Dirty Harry, the Outlaw Josey Wales. And he’s been deconstructing that gruff tough image for a good while now, in more farewell roles than any of the great movie stars were afforded. He was the reluctant gunslinger in Unforgiven, the one-last-ride astronaut in Space Cowboys, the world-weary boxing trainer in Million Dollar Baby, the mellowing racist-next-door in Grand Torino, and the enjoy-it-while-it-lasts semi-accidental drug transporter in The Mule. Each used his qualities as a former tough guy to mine deep currents of regret and second-guessing. That reaches another apotheosis in Cry Macho, probably the least of these, but the most pointed yet in saying all this macho stuff is worthless, in the end. And that a movie of such clean thematic clarity and simple sturdy craftsmanship was produced for a major Hollywood studio by a 91-year-old man in the middle of a pandemic is nothing to sneeze at either.

This is another movie that plays like he's writing his own eulogy. It pairs Eastwood, as a well-past-his-prime rodeo cowboy, with a troubled 13-year-old Mexican boy (Eduardo Minett) whose American father (Dwight Yoakam) wants brought back across the border for complicated custody reasons. The movie goes for little to none of the stakes you might expect. The suspense is mere token. The road trip takes few detours. It’s a pretty simple straight shot, there and back again, with episodic stops at various small towns and roadside diners where thinly sketched supporting roles either assist or need assistance from our mismatched leads. And there's some small amount of action, too, including giving the oldster a chance to land some punches. Do the old man and teen slowly grow to respect each other? You bet. Does the old man try to teach the youngster that it’s not all about being tough, that it’s okay to be sensitive, that looking to find some true grit in this world leaves you with just your grit and nothing else by the end? Oh, yeah. But Eastwood sells the cliches with his world-weariness, his sense of a hard-earned life behind him and a molasses drip need to leave the younger generations with some hard-candy truths that’ll linger long after he’s gone. The movie’s worst when it tries to lean into some generic thriller mechanics or pushes a little too hard on unearned sentiment. But it’s best when it ties its story’s energy to the subtextual knowledge that there’ll never be another Movie Star or director like Eastwood again. He's telling us one's never too macho to cry about that.

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