Cry Macho is not a great movie, but Clint Eastwood is a great director and a great star, one of the few filmmakers left in mainstream Hollywood allowed to make his own films whatever way he wants to make them and that is more than enough to make it a good movie. Eastwood plays a wizened ranch hand who gets sent to Mexico to bring back his boss Dwight Yoakum’s 13 year old son. Not much about this early part of the film makes sense: the world around the kid is more fake than the baby in American Sniper, and the mother is one of Eastwood’s more hysterically misogynistic portraits of a woman, incoherent and slutty and drunk and cruel and also somehow rich and powerful. She’s of course contrasted with the maternal Marta who Clint and the kid get sidetracked with on the way home, a loving grandmother and excellent cook who always looks at this broken down old man with bright adoring eyes.
This section of the film, where Clint and the boy hide out from the cops in a dusty town that time forgot, seems to be Clint’s ideal place. He sleeps in a shrine, helps out the locals with their various animal troubles (apparently no one else in this rural community knows how to do anything with animals??), and is fed fine food by charming and attractive women. And honestly, it is a delight to see the man enjoying his eden. Who wouldn’t want it all? The idyll ends, of course as it must, and the two make their way back to the border, though not before being waylaid by some cops who think they’re running drugs. As one of them trashes Eastwood’s car (the third one he drives in the film, a delightful running gag), he keeps up a steady stream of muttered profanities about these “asshole, idiot, loser cops”, a reminder that Eastwood’s conservatism, whatever its faults, and there are many, has always been deeply anti-authoritarian.
They’re saved, of course, by the rooster that gives the film its title (“a cock named Macho”, Eastwood helpfully explains one of the films better jokes). This pullum ex machina is one of the more artful expressions of the film’s examination of masculinity, the primary theme of Eastwood’s career, especially in its later phase (an era that’s been going on for at least 30 years now). What does being a man mean for Clint Eastwood? Does it mean telling the cops to go to hell and poking your enemies in the eye and finding a woman to bring you coffee in the morning and avoiding the cheap ones who try to seduce you? Or is all that nonsense, made-up posturing that sad lonely people build up around themselves as a defense against the terrifying, incoherent world? The great thing about Clint Eastwood is that he honestly doesn’t know the difference.
Early in the film, on Eastwood’s journey into Mexico, he camps out rather than stay in a hotel, as any real cowboy would. The camera catches him bunking down for the night in the final moments of sunset, purple sky above deep black. We only see his silhouette, it’s too dark for anything but shadow, as he sinks down to the ground, below the horizon, a movie star merging with the earth.