At 91, Clint Eastwood still knows how to direct a movie with a nice, clean leisurely classical spareness, something you wish more directors knew how to do (or wanted to). As a filmmaker, Eastwood has earned the right to be called ageless. As an actor, though, he’s not trying to hide his age. In “Cry Macho,” he plays a broken-down horse breeder and former rodeo rider who is given the task of going down to Mexico City to retrieve a 13-year-old boy, Rafael (Eduardo Minnett), and drive him back to Texas. (He’s taking the boy from his wealthy-diva Mexican mother and bringing him to his American ranch-owner father.) Eastwood is still handsome, and he still does the Clint sneer, with one side of his mouth open a tiny bit wider than the other side. But the Clint we see in “Cry Macho” is bent over, with a carefully combed shock of gray-white hair, skin like creased parchment, and eyes that gleam with an old person’s primal vulnerability. His movements are careful, and when he speaks, the words float out of his windpipe in a way that’s so cracked and dry and deliberate that, at moments, you can hear the old Eastwood minimalism shading off into a new Eastwood fragility.

What’s gone, from this slow-talking, slow-moving Clint, is any sense of impending danger. He throws a punch or two in “Cry Macho,” and does it convincingly, but he also takes senior-citizen siestas, and it’s not as if his character is pretending that he can use his sheer strength to dominate the much younger scoundrels, bruisers, and Federales who are on his tail. The way Eastwood dominates now is with the pensive simplicity of his words — his I-say-what-I-mean-and-mean-what-I-say steely gentleman’s directness, which has become his armchair form of machismo.

How is the movie? Adapted from N. Richard Nash’s 1975 novel (the script is by Nash and Eastwood regular Nick Schenk), it’s friendly and diverting and formulaic, in an inoffensive and good-natured way, and it’s a totally minor affair. It’s set in 1979, after Clint’s Mike Milo has been fired by Howard Polk, his boss at the ranch, played by a blustery Dwight Yoakam. But as we learn, Mike owes Howard a lot (he saved Mike’s life after he’d bottomed out). So when Mike is asked to head over the border to retrieve Howard’s estranged son, he’s got little choice but to go.

The destination is a mansion in Mexico City, where the boy’s reckless and debauched mother (Fernanda Urrejola) warns Mike that the kid is a wild thing, out in the gutter, attending cockfights and God knows what else. She asks Mike to please take him, and good riddance. (Actually, though, she needs to hold onto her son to provide leverage for an investment deal.) We’re led to think that we’re going to be seeing the poster child for unruly movie delinquency, but Mike shows up at a cockfight, where it takes him about three seconds to find the boy and his pet rooster, named Macho. Our first reaction is: The kid seems pretty nice. And so does the rooster.

They are. Eduardo Minnett, who has been a regular on several Mexican TV series, has a baby-faced wholesomeness and a sweet, spirited manner. Rafael has every right to be surly about Mike taking him away, but we can see from the start that he’s no delinquent; his mother is just projecting. Mike still has to win him over, of course, but the movie might have had more bite to it if Rafael were in greater need of taming.

He and Mike pile into Mike’s two-toned Chevy suburban and head out on the road, during which they’ll get to know each other and undergo a few adventurous ordeals, none of which ever turns too dark. The car gets stolen, but that’s okay, they’ll soon find an abandoned one. In a parking lot, the locals get heated over what this aging gringo is doing traveling with a Mexican kid, but that’s okay, they soon turn their aggression on the sinister henchman who’s trying to bring the boy back. Sitting down for lunch, Rafael casually orders a tequila, but that’s okay, Mike waves the order away and sets him straight. “You get too angry,” Rafael tells Mike. “It’s not good for you at your age.” He’s right about that, but “Cry Macho” isn’t an angry Clint movie. By the time these two arrive at a makeshift ranch, and Mike starts teaching the kid to ride horses, we realize that we’re watching the closest thing we’ve seen to a Clint Eastwood Afterschool Special.

Late in the film, Clint tells the kid (whom he calls “Kid” — yes, it’s that kind of movie), “The macho thing is overrated.” Which actually sounds like just the sort of reflective, ancient-and-wiser, red-state-shading-into-blue idea that you want to hear from the preeminent macho movie star of the last half century. The nonagenarian Clint says it like he means it. The truth is, though, that the rest of the movie doesn’t quite bear it out. Even though he doesn’t rule physically anymore, the Clint we see in “Cry Macho” is just as rooted in the domineering presence of his mystique as he ever was. He’s just quieter about it. The movie turns into a romance: When they’re at that ranch, the woman who runs the adjoining cantina cooks for them, and she and Clint strike up a flirtation so sly it kind of sneaks its way into the movie. The actress Natalia Traven has a face that seems to have lived, just like Clint’s, and it’s sweet to see them pair off. But it’s not more than sweet. “Cry Macho” is a pleasant enough place-holder for Eastwood, but I hope and suspect that down the line he’s got some more macho to cry.

‘Cry Macho’ Review: Clint Eastwood’s Mexico-Set Ancient-Cowboy-Meets-Troubled-Teen Afterschool Special

Reviewed at Park Ave. Screening Room, Sept. 13, 2021. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 121 MIN.

  • Production: A Warner Bros. Pictures release of a Malpaso, Albert S. Ruddy production. Producers: Albert S. Ruddy, Tim Moore, Jessica Meier, Clint Eastwood. Executive producer: David M. Bernstein.
  • Crew: Director: Clint Eastwood. Screenplay: Nick Schenk, N. Richard Nash. Camera: Ben Davis. Editors: Joel Cox, David Cox. Music: Mark Mancina.
  • With: Clint Eastwood, Eduardo Minett, Dwight Yoakam, Natalia Traven, Fernanda Urrejola, Jorge-Luis Pallo, Rocky Reyes.