What to watch next? Reviews of “Cry Macho” on HBOMax and “Worth” on Netflix.
Toward the end of his career, John Ford made a number of what critics called “old man’s films.”
They leaned toward either summing up or perhaps commenting on recurring themes in his work. Clint Eastwood’s latest film (I don’t dare say last film), “Cry Macho” might certainly fall into that category. This modern-day (late 1970s) Western puts Eastwood back in the saddle for the first time since “Unforgiven” while delving into some of the recurring themes of his career: honor, heroism, pride, loyalty, responsibility—and what it means to be a man.
The premise is fairly simple: Eastwood is a washed up rodeo rider/horse trainer whose life has gone to Hell since he lost his wife and child. At the onset, Eastwood is fired by his employer (Dwight Yoakum), a Texas ranch owner who has grown impatient with Eastwood’s protracted decline; one year later, Yoakum needs Eastwood to retrieve his “wild” teenage son Rafo (Eduardo Minett) who has been (unhappy) living in Mexico with his mother. Eastwood reluctantly agrees, mainly out of loyalty to his former employer (who admittedly put up with a lot.) As it turns out, the journey into Mexico is relatively easy. It’s the “gettin’ out” that’s hard, as the sultry Mother doesn’t particularly want Rafo to leave (even though she has ignored him and given him up for lost.) And to that end, she has some “tough, armed hombres” at her disposal to look for Eastwood and Rafo (and Rafo’s rooster named “Macho”), as they make their way to the border in Eastwood’s ramshackle vehicle.
There are a few things wrong with “Cry Macho.” The screenplay (by Nick Schenk and N. Richard Nash, from Nash’s novel). has more than a few holes and is far too equivocal toward some characters (like Yoakum’s). And there are times when you wish the themes weren’t spelled out in such a literal manner. In addition, Eastwood the actor is far too old for his character (given the timeline of his personal calamities). He still possesses his rugged charm (although is he really charming enough to dazzle the ladies as easily as he does here? I leave that to you), his expressive and terse way with a line. And yet there is much to like, both about the film and Eastwood. Eastwood is very endearing in the role, and he brings a lifetime of gravitas (and audience awareness) to the film. In spite of the flaws in the screenplay, Eastwood convincingly conveys his character’s inner strength and outer frailty (he does offer the requisite punch or two, but it’s no knockout by any means), as he confronts his own mortality. His relationship with Minett’s Rafo is developed gradually and believably (Minett is very likable in the role—though his character is nowhere near the terror that other characters make him out to be). And despite the odds, Eastwood’s tentative romance with Natalia Traven’s Marta is also very affecting, with both actors exuding a comfort and warmth toward each other that makes the last section poignant—even if one is aware of how implausible it is. I wound up liking this more than I intended—even as I’m writing this. It’s on HBOMax—and I may watch it again before it disappears.
The subject of “Worth” (on Netflix) concerns the aftermath of the 9/11 attack—and how lawyer Kenneth Feinberg (and his firm) accepted the challenge of dispersing government funds to 9/11 victims’ survivors (based on a formula of his own devising based on the victim’s income) by a certain date. In this case, if he doesn’t convince 80% of the victims’ families to sign on by January of 2004, then the claims would go into a lengthy and costly litigation process which the litigants may very well lose. Weinberg (as played by Michael Keaton) sees himself, his firm and the fund (by way of his formula) as helping not only the government and the airlines, but also as being fairly generated toward the needs of the families. And just when you think this is going to be a “by the numbers” drama (in spite of Michael Keaton’s dynamic performance), Stanley Tucci appears as a grieving widower who, after seeming to be supportive, announces that the formula is unfair and urges Keaton’s Feinberg to adjust the formula (on a more individual basis) and more importantly, to listen—really listen—to the survivors—all of whom have compelling, and even devastating stories to share.
As directed by Sara Colangelo and written by Max Borenstein (from Weinberg’s book “What is Life Worth?”), “Worth” skillfully addresses the value of human life from all sides, and how the current laws often do not satisfactorily depict what truly constitutes a person’s family. After some initial reluctance, Weinberg and his second-in-command Camille Biros (beautifully played by Amy Ryan as the conscience of the organization) are forced to confront some long-held and possibly outdated notions—while trying to right some moral wrongs (even if they’re legally “right.”). Among the victims’ survivors, Laura Benanti is a standout as a widow who initially wants no part of the settlement, along with Tucci who embodies patience and compassion as the survivor who is instrumental in ensuring the outcome. And while the end of “Worth” regrettably veers toward a “race with the clock, feel good” finish (as in will they or won’t they get the 80%), luckily there’s a coda that reminds us of the human cost of it all.