In 2008, Clint Eastwood was my favorite actor. As someone who was really into the spaghetti westerns Dirty Harry and Unforgiven, in my eyes the old man could do no wrong. I wasn’t yet 17, and I had somewhat strict parents who weren’t about to let me into the cinema to see R-rated movies. So when Gran Torino came out, I was able to convince my mother to let me see my first R-rated movie in the theater, under the promise of this being Eastwood’s final acting performance.
And here we are in 2021, with the 91-year-old man acting in his third film since then.
I feel a bit cheated; I won’t lie. I’d probably feel more cheated if this movie were worse than it is, but I’d feel considerably less cheated if this movie were as good a final role for the old man as Gran Torino was.
It probably should have ended for Eastwood as an actor with Gran Torino. He’s still a good actor, and his performance elevated both The Mule and Trouble with the Curve, but it’s difficult to imagine viewing either of those movies as anything above mediocre. This movie isn’t really an exception.
Eastwood has become frustrating for me over the years for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which being his entrance into the political arena. I certainly haven’t seen all of the former Mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea’s recent directorial efforts. However, whenever people would talk online about how American Sniper was nothing but a celebration of American violence and war crimes, I tended to give him the benefit of the doubt, seeing as how he made probably the most intelligent and thoughtful cinematic ruminations on the natures of violence and – dare I say – toxic masculinity – with White Hunter Black Heart and Unforgiven.
But that’s kind of the problem, in a way. Those movies came out in 1990 and 1992, respectively, and it sort of seems like he hasn’t had anything original to say as a filmmaker since then. He’s still made plenty of solid movies (and even won a couple of Academy Awards) since then, but it really does seem like we’ve had basically 30 years of Eastwood making movies that are reflections on his own career. I suppose at his age, it’s probably difficult to avoid nostalgia, but as a viewer, it’s become harder and harder to embrace that – particularly as the films have been declining in quality.
By no means is Cry Macho a bad movie, and Eastwood’s assured performance is certainly the highlight. I don’t deny that it’s fun to see him quite literally back in the saddle. But for me, anyway, this was largely a bittersweet experience. There have been diminishing returns in Eastwood’s “final” performances. Gran Torino seemed like a great final role, even if the film wasn’t up to his usual directorial standards. Trouble with the Curve was alright, but it was certainly nice to see Eastwood on screen again. The Mule was the first time he was actor-director in a decade, but didn’t really seem special otherwise. Cry Macho is just another Clint Eastwood movie. That’s it, and that’s the problem.