In a perfect world, Bronco Billy would hop in his Gran Torino, run the gauntlet to bring a million dollar chico across the border, and along the way encounter a kind of smoldering romance that bridges on Madison County. Long before drones became a cinematographer’s best friend, Clint Eastwood chose dispassionately distanced aerial shots to open the show. It’s how we met Mike Milo (Eastwood), another footsoldier in Eastwood’s army, an outsider with a dark past he’d rather forget as he charts the rocky road to redemption that lies ahead. Cry Macho? Why should Eastwood cry macho? No sooner did he reinvent macho than he went about deconstructing it. It’s 1979, and Mike accepts a job from Howard Polk (Dwight Yoakam), the same man who one year earlier relieved him of his duties with the rodeo. Mike broke his back when a horse fell on him, and the painkillers and booze that assisted in his recovery have since blunted his senses. Polk calls in a favor: he needs Mike to remove his 13-year-old son Rafo (Eduardo Minett) from the clutches of his unstable wife and bring him across the border. Mike obliges out of what he calls “old-fashioned loyalty.” At 91, Clint still fancies himself quite the ladies’ man. The border agent flirts with the three attractive girls in the convertible before Mike. When asked what his business is in Mexico, Mike replies, “I’m with them.” He resists the advances of Rafo’s mother Leta (Fernanda Urrejola), and we close with Mike in the arms of Marta (Natalia Traven), a sultry cantina proprietor instantly smitten by his charm. Who isn’t? If there is one thing in the film destined to win an audience over, it’s Clint’s allure. The same can’t be said of the characters he encounters, particularly Leta, who is less concerned with her son being kidnapped by a stranger than she is with Mike rebuking her sexual advances. She does point Mike in the direction of Rafo’s favorite hangout, a cockfighting ring. Following a threat to snap the neck of Macho, the boy’s prize cock, Rafo appears from out of the shadows. Mike produces a picture of the boy when he was five, and fills his head with talk of Polk owning a hundred horses and a rodeo to go with them. From here on in, it’s The Good, the Young, and the Rooster. The themes may be similar, but this doesn’t amount to a patch on Eastwood’s across-the-border travels in The Mule. Cry Macho moves at a leisurely pace, something that can’t be said of Eastwood. He’s taken on a Henry Fonda-esque elder statesman demeanor, and critics were taken aback by his ability to ride a horse and throw a punch. Eastwood pokes fun at the thought of aging gracefully. Mike earned a reputation as an animal whisperer and when the local Federale brings his pooch to be examined, Mike confides in Rafo, “I don’t know how to cure old.” He also whispers lies intended to convince Rafo that his rightful place is with his father. We begin to see through the regular reassurance that Polk can’t wait to be reunited with his boy. And Rafo’s still too young to realize that Mike didn’t drag his wizened carcass across the border without expectation of recompense. But what is with Eastwood’s casting of adolescents? I don’t mean to pick on young people, but Rafo makes the non-professionals in Gran Torino look like something out of Truffaut’s The 400 Blows. And when all is said and done, it’s Macho who scores the biggest laugh. The older one gets, the more naps they need. Mike takes a siesta in Marta’s place, only to have the feathered alarm clock’s “Cock-a-Doodle-Doo” awaken him an hour later. Eastwood’s reflections find the concept of macho vastly overrated. Loyalists learned that in The Gauntlet, where rather than spend eternity churning out Dirty Harry sequels, Eastwood began nudging his screen persona to the dark side where it’s remained pretty much ever since. In the end, it’s Macho who saves the day (in more ways than one) and in exchange for a beat-up Chevy, Mike rides into the sunset behind the wheel of a beat-up Mercedes. (2021) — Scott Marks
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