The Mule may be a film about drug cartels and police raids, but it’s also a film made by an 88 year-old. And even if his name is Clint Eastwood, that mature perspective defines the storytelling far more than his gunslinging screen persona.
Earl Stone (Eastwood) constantly grumbles about kids always on their phones, unable to enjoy life, and Eastwood’s direction reflects that. He deals in simple, descriptive shots and editor Joel Cox cuts at a leisurely pace, intentionally draining a lot of the sensationalism from this story.
Much of Eastwood’s directing career has been about deglamourising warfare, violence and heroism. Here too he presents Earl’s decision to run drugs for a cartel as a matter-of-fact solution to approaching poverty. This is a refreshing decision, but one that is badly fumbled in the script.
Earl begins as a curmudgeonly horticulturist, more dedicated to his flowers than his family – a logline we never thought we’d see beside a Clint Eastwood character. With the vague demon of “the internet” blamed for his company’s demise, Earl bumps into a literal stranger who suggests he could earn money “doing some driving”. He follows the lead, and doesn’t bat an eyelid when three gangbangers slip a mystery bag into his car for delivery. None of this makes a lick of sense.
The only reason we swallow it is because of Clint in the lead role. His undeniable charisma anchors the film, despite its many inconsistencies and lack of drama.
It’s hard to know the point of The Mule, beyond a vague directive to spend more time with family. Add in the film’s classic right-wing belief that just because your lead is friendly with gay or Hispanic characters it gives them the right to jokingly use homophobic or racist slurs, and The Mule becomes a film it’s probably better to avoid.
CAST: Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Michael Peña, Alison Eastwood, Laurence Fishburne, Andy Garcia
DIRECTOR: Clint Eastwood
WRITERS: Nick Schenk (screenplay), Sam Dolnick (New York Times article ‘The Sinaloa Cartel’s 90-Year Old Drug Mule’)
SYNOPSIS: A 90-year-old horticulturist and Korean War veteran becomes a drug mule for a Mexican drug cartel.