It seems the concept of manhood and masculinity currently resides someplace in the ether of our collective conscience between necessary and unwanted. Adjectives like “toxic” get arbitrarily thrown around by commentators of every stripe thinking they have it pegged by isolating a handful of cherry-picked bad examples.

And then a movie adaptation of a dusty cowboy novel comes along and makes said commentators shut their mouths. Enter “Cry Macho,” the new film from Academy Award-winning actor, director, and living legend Clint Eastwood. The book was written by N. Richard Nash and published in 1975.

Eastwood directs and stars as Mike Milo, a semi-retired good ol’ fashioned cowboy from the days of yesteryear. On the surface he’s old, crotchety, and doesn’t seem like he’s of much use or relevance in the relatively modern world — mid-1970s — in which he lives.

He’s asked by a longtime friend to rescue the man’s 13-year-old son from Mexico City and the hands of the boy’s abusive mother. What follows is the adventure and budding bond between two individuals of vastly different backgrounds finding a common thread as they return to the Texas border. 

In his wizened years, Eastwood has taken on playing less rough-and-tumble types and now plays reluctant mentor figures opposite a young cast member in need of his experience and guidance. “Million Dollar Baby” and “Gran Torino” follow that same trend.

The film has a heart to it. It is about being macho — “strong,” as Milo’s young charge Rafo says; it’s what the boy named his cockfighting rooster. It’s the central theme for two loner individuals reevaluating their place in the world while dealing with their own insecurities, fears, anxieties and inferiority complexes.

Both characters have had to be survivors in their own way.

The filming and cinematography are true to form for Eastwood; there is a minimalist approach to the cast, with only a handful of actors cast in speaking roles. The camera provides a beautiful view of New Mexico’s arid landscape, which stood in for Mexico’s rural border south of Texas.

Several scenes, including those taking place at night around a campfire, remind the audience that cowboys still do exist — even up to the 21st century despite the changes to the cultural environment. The tone of the movie feels very much in line with Cormack McCarthy’s “All the Pretty Horses,” which is also about the end of the cowboy era.

Two interesting facts come from this film. First, this is Eastwood’s first time being back up on a horse since 1992’s “Unforgiven.” Second, this was a film and a role that he was offered back in 1988; he passed on it then to film “The Dead Pool” as the infamous Dirty Harry.

Oh, and here’s a bonus thing: Eastwood used the original screenplay the book’s author originally pitched to 20th Century Fox before turning it into a novel.

“Cry Macho” was released to theaters and streaming on HBO Max on Sept. 17.

Garrett K. Jones is a local fantasy author.  He currently has four books released in his ongoing series, and he produces a vlog on YouTube and the Creator's Corner podcast (available on Spotify, Google, & Apple).  IG/Twitter:  @gkj_publishing

Feel free to contact him with title suggestions of films you’d like him to review.