Cast: Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Pena
Director: Clint Eastwood
Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes: Earl Stone, a man in his 80s who is broke, alone, and facing foreclosure of his business when he is offered a job that simply requires him to drive. Easy enough, but, unbeknownst to Earl, he’s just signed on as a drug courier for a Mexican cartel. He does well — so well, in fact, that his cargo increases exponentially, and Earl is assigned a handler. But he isn’t the only one keeping tabs on Earl; the mysterious new drug mule has also hit the radar of hard-charging DEA agent Colin Bates. And even as his money problems become a thing of the past, Earl’s past mistakes start to weigh heavily on him, and it’s uncertain if he’ll have time to right those wrongs before law enforcement, or the cartel’s enforcers, catch up to him.
As Clint Eastwood continues to add projects to his storied career, some could argue that Eastwood has lost a step or two in the last few years. American Sniper was not exactly everyone’s cup of tea and 15:17 to Paris was mediocre at best, so expectations surrounding The Mule are cautious at best. Luckily, thanks to a stacked cast and a strong script, The Mule shows us that Eastwood still has a few gems left in the tank. A movie that goes from funny and charming to sweet and sensitive in a moment’s notice, The Mule may not make any splashes on the awards circuit, but it should be able to entertain anyone watching it.
The film follows Earl Stone (Eastwood), a man who runs a successful greenhouse and takes his work very seriously to the point where it severs the relationships he has with his family. When he business fails for refusing to adapt to a world with advanced technology, Earl must find a new way to make a living. When he comes upon an opportunity to make some serious money driving as a drug mule for a Mexican drug cartel, Earl must teeter between repairing the relationships with his family members, staying in line with the cartel’s rules, and avoiding DEA agents (Cooper and Pena) who are coming after him. The one thing I was not expecting from this movie is just how funny the dialogue would be, specifically with Earl. I was expecting a pretty dramatic movie from start to finish, but Eastwood has one-liners every once in a while that come out of nowhere and are incredibly funny. These moments also help show the development of Earl and that he is set in his ways but also open to learning about how new things are done. This is particularly shown when he has interactions with people from other races, and while he may say some things that are incredibly ignorant, it is more so a product of how he was brought up and he seems to genuinely care about the people he interacts with regardless of their race. When this is combined with the relationship he has with his extended family members we see just how complicated Earl is and that actions and intentions should be separated from one another when judging a person’s character. Considering writer Nick Schenk also worked with Eastwood when he wrote Gran Torino, it is no surprise that this is Eastwood’s strongest script in years. Outside of the story and script, when you have a cast that is this loaded from its leads to its minor characters, you know you will get something that is at least average. This cast is a massive upgrade from 15:17 to Paris and shows what happens when you use trained actors in lieu of novices. Eastwood and Cooper are fantastic in their larger roles while Dianne Wiest and Taissa Farmiga are strong in their limited roles. The one thing I wish the film had better explained was the timeline of all of these events. Based on the source material, Earl was a mule for a decade, but the events in this movie feel as though Earl only runs drugs for a couple of years at the most. This and the story with the internal struggle with the cartel weigh the film down and make it feel a little slower than it should be. At 116 minutes, the film is just shy of the two-hour mark, but it feels like it goes on much further than that. Maybe if the film had cut some of these scenes removed or moved some things around the film would have been more concise, but ultimately the film is enjoyable enough where this is not that big of an issue.
Overall, The Mule is a return to form for Eastwood and while not the best of his career shows that when he cares he can make a pretty good movie. Eastwood tends to direct movies about pretty interesting people and events, and I wish I learned about the true story when it first became public. I am not sure how many films Eastwood has left in his career, but The Mule has made me genuinely excited for whatever he does next.
Overall Score: 7/10