Monday, September 27, 2021

Cry Macho

Short of repeating a movie I've already seen (which I hate to do at full cinema prices), my only other local choice last weekend was Dear Evan Hansen, which I could tell from the trailer I would have hated – and a detailed review I read today confirms that this is quite likely. But the title didn't thrill me. It was the trailer for Clint Eastwood's latest film that sold me on it. While I'm pretty sure I saw the more satisfying movie of my two choices, it pains me to say that the trailer was better, for reasons I should have anticipated.

Clint E. is notorious for making tonally flat movies centering on his own tonally flat acting style, and the only exception in this case is the greater emphasis than ever before on his advancing age. By necessity, he of the thousand yard squint is unclenching his jaw muscles a little more with each performance, whispering a little more softly, relaxing a little more into a shuffling, hunch-shouldered cool. There is less visual sparkle than ever to distract the viewer from the screenplay's (usual) lack of verbal sparkle. The supporting cast does powerful work but, except for a few brief moments, they keep it understated, too, the better to keep the tone consistent. Mexico looks dry, dusty and mostly a little dull, the better to make a quiet, one-cop town look like a nice place for a 90-year-old cowboy to rest his boots. The cast member with the most convincing dialogue, and the best line readings, is the chicken.

It's about a lonesome cowboy type (actually, a washed-up rodeo star) whose ex-boss, played by Dwight Yoakam with his patented knack for making you want to punch him on the nose, cashes in on Clint's sense of obligation to him and sends him to Mexico City to fetch his supposedly abused, estranged son. The boy's mother seemingly doesn't care if Clint takes the boy away, but after Clint insults her, she sort of starts to care. So his escape with the boy – a wild child with a pet fighting cock named Macho – is a little perilous. There's a steady, low-level tension in the background, as the pair eludes one of the boy's mama's goons, as well as inquisitive Federales.

They find themselves stuck in a small town south of the border, where they're welcomed by a horse dealer, the widow who runs the cantina, and her orphaned granddaughters. It's the kind of interlude that is meant to come across as idyllic, but you'd probably have to be a 90-something washed-up rodeo star with a marked preference for tonal flatness to take it that way. Well, Clint does, and the tension of the story is resolved with only a little conflict, perhaps undercut by the fact that being stopped by a couple of Federales looking for a bribe is almost more interesting than the final dust-up with mama's goon. And the boy's final decision about whether to believe that his father wants him doesn't really leave the viewer feeling a satisfying sense of resolution.

So, basically, it has one of those ambiguous endings that make great westerns. Only, unlike The Searchers, the lonesome cowboy ends up (probably) happier than the lost child he was sent to find and bring home. His fate leaves a feeling less like a punch in the gut than an unarticulated "tsk" at the fact that there isn't another act where he goes back to Texas and steals the kid back from his good-for-nothing dad. Maybe a younger, peppier Clint would have gone in for such an ending. But older, wiser, run-over-by-the-bucking-bronco-of-life-and-left-for-dead Clint knows when he has a happy enough ending, and if that just happens to fit the thematic tonal flatness of the entire picture, all the better.

Three Scenes That Made It For Me: (1) Whenever the cantina señorita smiles at Clint and you know he's gonna get lucky, if he sticks around long enough. (2) Goon convinces a parking lot full of Mexican rednecks that Clint is kidnapping his kid, but kid turns the tables by convincing them that goon, well, you know. Biff! Pow! Vroom! (3) The town cop, who has been suspicious of Clint and the kid since they hove into sight, brings them his wife's dog for healing. (And also, by the way, doesn't rat them out when goon and Federales have him by the scruff.)

So, it's not a terrible movie like I'm informed Dear Evan Hansen is, but a little on the dry, tough, mildly flavored side, like those Mexican doughnuts that we Americans always expect to taste better than they actually do. I've seen worse movies by Clint Eastwood, even. It doesn't actually suck. Let that recommendation stand for what it's worth.

No comments: