After being published in 1975 by author/screenwriter N. Richard Nash, many attempts were made to bring his novel to the silver screen from 1975 to 2011 without success. But last year, 91-year-old Clint Eastwood decided to take a crack at it. Hey, great timing!
It’s 1980 in rural Texas and ex-rodeo star and animal lover Mike Milo (Eastwood) has just been offered a rather peculiar job by the same man who fired him a year ago. Wealthy ranch owner, Howard Polk (singer Dwight Yoakum) wants Mike to go to Mexico City and sorta-kinda kidnap his estranged son from his powerful (drug lord?) ex-wife, Leta (Fernanda Urrejola). Mike reluctantly agrees and soon meets up with Leta who refuses to give up her son, even though he’s a nuisance. Mike finds 13-year-old Rafael “Rafa” Polk (played by an obvious 16-year-old Eduardo Minett) at a cockfight where his pet rooster, Macho, is going to compete. Once Mike tells Rafa that his dad wants him back in Texas, the two are off on a road trip.
BUT! Leta isn’t going to make their trip easy as she has her chief henchman, Aurelio (Horacio Garcia Rojas), keep them from crossing the border. Sorta like Fix trying to stop Phineas Fogg from completing his 80 day trip around the world. Anyway, through a series of events that keep escalating, Mike and Rafa eventually find themselves stranded in a tiny little Mexican village, unable to leave. However, it’s not so bad. Mike has hit it off pretty well with Marta (Natalia Travern), the pretty widowed diner owner who cares for several little girls and a teenager who, naturally, likes Rafa. While there, Mike & Rafa begin to bond over a few week’s time, breaking horses for a local rancher and sharing stories.
But Howard is getting restless and wants his boy back, not so much out of parental love, but because of a secret agenda. Just as things are getting going good for the pair, bad news comes a’callin’, and then it’s time for a forced, but brief ‘second act break-up that leads to a third act reconciliation’ that is totally unnecessary. The ending, as well as most of the movie, is baffling. Why are these characters making odd decisions when they shouldn’t? Can they really be THAT dumb? There were SO many times I was questioning the sanity of the characters or the massive plot holes, that I was actually yelling at the screen, “WHY are you doing that?” or “HOW did he know you were there?”
I’ve never read his 1975 novel, but Nash, along with screenwriter Nick Schenk (The Judge, Gran Torino) have adapted the book into a long, drawn-out human drama. A rich character study that hits the oh-so predictable beats that you can see coming a mile away. But it’s Eastwood’s slow hand in direction and lazy-day in acting that really makes this film watchable. The man is 91-years-old and STILL acting, producing, and directing and you can see it when he allows his line flubs to stay in the movie! Who does that? And nobody plays an unfiltered, cynical, gruff, don’t-give-a-rats-ass, old guy better than Eastwood, who’s had a lock on playing this character for decades now. What? Are you gonna tell him no?
Eastwood also loves to cast largely unknown actors, hence Chilean actress Fernanda Urrejola (outstanding), Natalia Travern (excellent), and young Minett, who is not too shabby. Yoakum is always a pleasure to see on screen as he’s quite a good actor. Okay, so this movie might not be as absorbing and intriguing as Eastwood’s 2018 film, The Mule, or as heartbreaking as Bill Munny was in Unforgiven, but it still serves as a time capsule to a legendary filmmaker and actor I admire and respect.
**Now showing in theaters and streaming on HBOMax
A Perfect World (1993)
Quite coincidentally this movie, which parallels Cry Macho in plot, was also directed by Clint Eastwood! How about that! Originally a vehicle for Denzel Washington, Kevin Costner stars as a vicious career criminal who takes up the unlikely mantle as a father figure to a little boy.
Set in 1963 rural Texas, Costner is Robert “Butch” Haynes, an incarcerated prisoner who escapes prison (just like Eastwood does in Escape From Alcatraz) along with psychopathic nutcase, Terry Pugh (Keith Szarabajka). While looking for a car to steal, Terry goes a bit crazy (yeah, big surprise) and almost rapes a single mother in her home, sparking a fistfight with Butch and the kidnapping of eight-year-old Phillip Perry (T.J. Lowther). While these three are on the run, the law takes over and that’s where Texas Ranger Red Garnett (Eastwood) and his boys come in, along with a newbie in their midst, super-smart criminologist, Sally Gerber (Laura Dern).
Using a brand new mobile command center, courtesy of the campaign-minded governor, Red and Co. head out to find Butch, Terry, and little Phillip. But what they don’t know is, Terry, aside from being a trigger-happy moron and a dick, has run afoul of Butch and met the business end of Butch’s .357 Magnum after threatening the child. Oopsie!! But in doing so, Phillip knows that Butch has his best interest in mind, not to mention that Butch looks really cool in sunglasses! Quicker than you can say, “Road trip!”, the pair are off on an adventure, while Red and his law-dogs are trying to figure out his next move.
Butch & Phillip talk about life, go shopping at Friendly’s Department Store where Phillip steals a Caspar, The Friendly Ghost Halloween costume, evade a roadblock by “borrowing” a family’s station wagon–with the family still in it, and wind up at a small farmhouse owned by abusive Mack (Wayne DeHart), his wife, Lottie (Mary Alice), and their young grandson, Cleveland. But after seeing Mack smack around his kid, Butch loses it and nearly kills the man, opening young Phillip’s eyes to Butch’s true colors and savagery. Angry at this, Phillip shoots Butch, which leads to a tragic, traumatic, and very long & drawn-out conclusion.
At nearly 2hrs and 25mins, this movie jumps tones from drama to comedy, then back to drama in the end. John Lee Hancock’s (The Rookie, The Blind Side) script is more of a character study than an action drama, as the slow-moving story takes its time to examine the relationship between the chain-smoking, fun-loving criminal and the child that latches onto him. This fatherless boy learns to love a dangerous outlaw who lets him steal, wear a costume & go trick-or-treating (he’s a Jehovah’s Witness), go on a “roller-coaster”, answers his questions, and hold a gun. It’s quite touching, but it takes a very long time to get there. Thank God you have no-nonsense Eastwood behind the camera directing this slice of Americana.
Costner, with a hick-accent, is excellent and plays the perfect would-be father (albeit twisted father) to young T. J. Lowther who, poor kid, had practically no acting skills at all. Add this to the fact that, for half the movie, he had to act in just a Polo shirt and his tighty-whitey underwear! Does this add to the realism of the movie? Maybe. You decide. Laura Dern as a quasi-Clarice Starling is wonderful for the small role she has and Eastwood (who wasn’t even supposed to ACT in this movie) is, of course, typically perfectly cast. And check out a young Bradley Whitford as lecherous FBI Agent Bobby Lee. He’s creepy-good!