A Messy Clint Eastwood Movie Is A Hit On Streaming

By Nathan Kamal | 3 months ago

clint eastwood unforgiven

Clint Eastwood has a pretty legitimate claim to being the oldest living movie star. The star of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly has been acting since the 1950s and has doubtless seen more changes in the film industry than anyone else. Given that Hollywood notoriously does not have much time for anyone who ages out of a tradition bracket of “stardom,” it is astonishing that he has not only stuck around to himself become a writer and director (and occasional country music star), Clint Eastwood currently has the #6 most popular film streaming on HBO Max. That movie is Cry Macho and was released just last year. Even at 91 years old, Clint Eastwood manages to have hits. 

Cry Macho had a long and tortured development process, much of which did not involve Clint Eastwood. It is adapted from a novel of the same name by N. Richard Nash, a screenwriter and playwright. Amusingly, Nash initially pitched the neo-Western story as a screenplay, only to see it roundly rejected. He then reworked it into a novel, and then sold the unchanged screenplay to 20th Century Fox based on the novel’s positive reviews. Years later, essentially the same thing would happen to a much more critically beloved Western: the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men, which just shows Hollywood tends to repeat itself. For decades, the screenplay for Cry Macho lingered in development hell; at one point, Robert Mitchum was attached to star, as well Pierce Brosnan and Roy Scheider. Eastwood was actually originally offered the role in the late 1990s and turned it down. Finally, in the early 2000s, things almost got to production with Arnold Schwarzenegger starring. He put it on hold to lead the fifth largest economy in the world, and then gave it up altogether when it was revealed that he had fathered a child out of wedlock. 

clint eastwood cry macho
Clint Eastwood in Cry Macho (2021)

In 2020, Clint Eastwood finally returned to the project as both lead actor, producer and director. This time, he brought along writer Nick Schenk, who had worked with Eastwood on his late career revival Gran Torino and The Mule. Then the Covid-19 pandemic hit, causing the same kind of production delays that have plagued so many films in the last several years. Also, according to Eastwood, getting a 91 year old man to ride a horse for the first time in almost 30 years was a bit worrisome for everyone. All in all, so how did the years of long development treat Cry Macho?

The only words for it are: a mixed bag. The story of Cry Macho involves an elderly retired rodeo star named Mike (played by Clint Eastwood, naturally) being hired to travel to Mexico City to retrieve Rafo (Eduardo Minett) the adolescent son of his former boss. Rafo has turned to a life of crime and illegal cockfighting, which is where Macho, the titular rooster comes in. The rest of the movie is basically a two-hander between Mike and Rafo as the grizzled older man and the troubled young one open up to each other and form a bond. There are also some goings-on involving Rafo’s mother Leta (Fernanda Urrejola), a Mexican woman predictably half Eastwood’s age named Marta (Natalia Traven) and some criminals. But that is not what audiences are looking for. They want to see Clint Eastwood cry. 

And really, that is what the movie was sold on. The trailer made good use of a campfire scene where Mike’s macho exterior cracks and we see tears. But this was not the first time that Clint Eastwood had cried on screen, and certainly not the first time one of his films has interrogated cultural notions of machismo and violence. It is not even the first of his movies that has done that in a Western setting. For all that Eastwood has occasionally been a controversial public figure, he has consistently been a more self-reflective filmmaker than he is given credit for. Even a movie like his Gran Torino that was both condemned and praised for its portrayal of violent vigilantism is far more ambiguous about the rightness and consequences of that behavior. In many ways, Cry Macho is just one more piece of decades of Eastwood contemplating the image that made him famous. Critics and audiences were lukewarm on the film when it was released, but it is certainly gaining a second life on a streaming service. Maybe time to check it out.