Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB
USA, 2021. Malpaso Productions, Ruddy Productions, Warner Bros.. Screenplay by Nick Schenk, N. Richard Nash, based on the novel by N. Richard Nash. Cinematography by Ben Davis. Produced by Clint Eastwood, Jessica Meier, Tim Moore, Albert S. Ruddy. Music by Mark Mancina. Production Design by Ronald R. Reiss. Costume Design by Deborah Hopper. Film Editing by David S. Cox, Joel Cox.
The “Macho” in question isn’t star-director Clint Eastwood, but a rooster given that appellation by the film’s other protagonist, a thirteen year-old boy whose transport across the border is the subject of this muted, generation-spanning drama. It would be easy to make rude jokes about cocks old, young and feathered, but thematically what is being suggested by this focus on a kind of mythical masculinity is the exploration of what that really means, and what role older men have to play in guiding their younger counterparts towards finding that meaning. That the message is coming from Eastwood might prepare the viewer for an obnoxious, nuance-free screed on the gender binary, but while he is certainly in no danger of passing muster in the current climate of pushing the boundaries of gender definitions, Eastwood has also never had any panic about on-screen masculinity and, for many years, enjoyed toying with its definition; many of his seventies action heroes encountered gay men and never got violent to prove their heterosexuality to the audience (sounds like faint praise, but in his era this was so rare it practically made him a PFLAG leader), and many of his films as director have given ample room for exploring the frustrations of women living in a male-dominated world (Sudden Impact and Unforgiven come immediately to mind, and when you compare Play Misty For Me with Fatal Attraction, you’ll find that only Clint holds the man’s irresponsible hedonism up to proper scrutiny). So it is with pleasure that, having watched Eastwood calcify into something of an angry curmudgeon with his more conservative recent output, focusing on Making American Men Great Again, that one greets this film that reminds us of an earlier version of the auteur; the disappointment here is that the myth of masculinity is not explored all that perceptively or with much success.
He plays an aged rodeo cowboy who has been fired from his post by his longtime friend and boss Dwight Yoakam, sitting on his porch ready to enjoy the rest of his life in peace when he is approached with an offer. Yoakam tells him that he has a son (Eduardo Minett) in Mexico who is living with his neglectful, alcoholic ex-wife, and would like Eastwood to drive down there and bring him back. Eastwood is making this movie at the age of ninety and, while we his fans hope he lives forever, he is looking very frail and just the premise of sending a man who looks like he could be knocked down with a poke in the shoulder on a lengthy cross-border voyage, to more or less kidnap a wild teenager from the wild streets of a dusty Mexican town, puts this film’s plot into a category of highly suspended disbelief.
Once south of the border, Eastwood has a little trouble finding the boy but, when he does, packs him into his car and heads back home, skirting the usual troubles we all know from similar films (including his own similar film, The Mule): federales looking for the boy, car thieves delaying his travel and, of course, a hot female saloon-owner (a wonderful Natalia Traven) with whom he finds a bit of comfort (and who also doesn’t notice that he’s got one foot in the grave…past the knee). In the meantime, Eastwood gives the kid a few lessons on behaviour and comportment, but it has none of the zing that his connecting with the kids in Gran Torino did, and Minett tries to give as cogent a performance as possible in the role of the young Rafo but can do little with a character who is mostly a series of comforting platitudes. The stakes are never that high, most of the complications are gotten out of too easily, and while the gentle pacing gives the film a beauty and grace reminiscent of the strongest of the director’s works, there’s no getting around the fact that the basic plot never feels credible. Expert placement on the soundtrack of Eydie Gorme’s “Sabor a Mí” does give the film its best moments, however, and the scenes of Eastwood becoming an accidental animal doctor in a middle-of-nowhere town in Mexico are where it hits its best stride.