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Film Review: The Mule

The Mule (2019)
Warner Bros. Pictures

Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Written by: Sam Dolnick & Nick Schenk
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Manny Montana, Taissa Farmiga & Michael Peña

There are two incredible things about new Clint Eastwood film The Mule, and one of them is the actual story. When Earl Stone (Eastwood) finds that the world he loves has left him behind, his life spirals into poverty and family turmoil. His love of all things plants, has led him to become obsessive about his hobby of cultivating beautiful orchids, attending conventions and winning awards, at the expense of the more important things in life, like his wife and daughter. A chance encounter leads him into a world of drug trafficking that escalates out of control before he has to face the consequences of all his actions. The story is based on true events. It’s remarkable to think that these events transpired, however I suppose there was a lot of dramatic licence taken with the plot, but it does appear that the whole Mule thing with a very elderly gentleman becoming one of the biggest drug traffickers in the country, is true.

The film follows the events of Earl and his family problems, and splits the screen time with the sub plot of DEA agent Colin Bates played by Bradley Cooper, who is under pressure to secure some arrests in regard to the ongoing problem of drugs making their way across the highways. Little do they suspect that it’s elderly Earl, who has never had a ticket in his life, and always drives carefully within the speed limit, that is breaking new records in the underworld Olympics with how much merch he’s casually shifting. Earl’s problem is the amount of cash he’s earning from each run. The money bails him out of all kinds of situations, and he uses it wisely to help others, and to try and build bridges with his daughter and ex wife. As things unfold, it’s easy to see how appealing the situation would have been to him, and his advanced years and ex military background means he takes everything in his stride and rolls with the situations as they arrive.

Eastwood is fine in this role, and there are moments when you can often still the steel eyed gaze that brought him so much fame in earlier films such as Dirty Harry. The rest of the cast also do a good job. Cooper is fine in his role, but his character is very 2 dimensional, and I feel if there had been more backstory, then exchanges that he has later in the film with Eastwood, may have had more impact. It’s probably the biggest flaw in the production, that things just seem to happen with not an awful lot of impact.

There were scenes where the tension and suspense could have been intensified a little, but Eastwood’s direction may have lacked a little energy that another director may have heightened. However, things do pick up towards the end, as we see the fate of Earl, who by now we have come to empathize with. There are moments where the ultimate message of time and priority come to the forefront, but the supporting cast have been given so little time on screen, that often it feels slightly diluted. Other critics have also mentioned the films casually racist tone in certain scenes, but you have to take into account that Earl is 90 years old, and like many older people, he is oblivious to the changing ways of today’s world.

If this is Eastwood’s last film as director, it’s safe to say that this is a great movie to leave on. His sympathetic, weary portrayal of Earl is often punctuated by a look that shows he still has strength and steel, and it’s hard to condemn his actions, despite the terrible consequences of them. The other incredible thing is that Eastwood is 88 years old, and has continued to make films since his debut play Misty For Me in 1971, that he also directed. Trust me if you haven’t seen this film it’s pretty good and a precursor for Fatal Attraction years later. Check it out, then go see The Mule, made 48 years later, amazing.