THE STORY – Broke, alone and facing foreclosure on his business, 90-year-old horticulturist Earl Stone takes a job as a drug courier for a Mexican cartel. His immediate success leads to easy money and a larger shipment that soon draws the attention of hard-charging DEA agent Colin Bates. When Earl’s past mistakes start to weigh heavily on his conscience, he must decide whether to right those wrongs before law enforcement and cartel thugs catch up to him.
THE CAST – Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Peña, Dianne Wiest & Andy García
THE TEAM – Clint Eastwood (Director) & Nick Schenk (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 116 Minutes
By Josh Williams
Clint Eastwood is a titan in the cinematic industry. Starting off his career as an acclaimed actor and eventually moving behind the camera to craft some truly stunning pieces of work. At 88 years old he is still making films to this day and proving that he has not lost his step and can hang with the young directors. After the disappointing “The 15:17 To Paris” earlier this year, Eastwood was in need of a comeback story. He needed something that was thematically challenging and crafted with precision and care much like his past works. The vehicle for this mission presents itself in the form of “The Mule,” in what appears to be a major Oscar player on paper turns out to just be another hollow piece of filmmaking from the legend. Acting more an old man standing on his lawn and yelling at the sky, versus something that is engaging and with more of a serious tone, “The Mule” has countless faults, some of which include both Eastwood’s performance and direction, making it one of the most disappointing films of the year.
Earl Stone (Clint Eastwood) is a man down on his luck, eagerly looking for work. After the boom of the internet ruins his rather successful flower business, he is in desperate need of some form of revenue. His family wants nothing to do with him, due to Earl neglecting them in the past. He has no true friends and nowhere to go in his time of need. After an argument with his ex-wife Mary Stone (Dianne West) at their granddaughter Ginny’s (Taissa Farmiga) birthday party, a man tells him that he has some friends who will pay for him to just drive around the country. Earl accepts this job and soon becomes a multi-million dollar drug mule for the Mexican cartel, moving in over 100 kilograms of cocaine a month into Illinois.
This film comes off like this could be another truly great piece of storytelling from Eastwood. The story is intriguing enough and offers up plenty of room for him to layer plenty of thematic elements within the woodwork of this dramatic family drama. But that is where the issue lies. Eastwood does not travel that route. The film begins as if it is going to focus on Eastwood’s character trying to win his family back by starting to appear at more family gatherings since they are constantly telling him about how many he has missed in the past. But it starts to become much more about how Earl Stone simply is enjoying this new line of dangerous work he finds himself in. He gets to be on the road, he gets to live his life at his pace and by his own rules. In short, he starts to feel alive again. Despite its “Breaking Bad” comparisons, this would be an interesting story for Clint to explore at this stage in his career, but it is told in a manner that is both a mess and at times insulting.
The character of Earl Stone is meant to be a flat 90 years old, which I suppose Eastwood thinks will excuse some of the downright racist moments that the character has. Eastwood’s character has a racist moment for just about every ethnicity. We thought he had left this behavior behind with “Gran Torino,” but to see it pop up again here, leaves a sour taste in your mouth. It seems that Eastwood was hoping that we as an audience would simply allow him to gloss over these moments due to his age but he should know better. Aside from the blatantly racist side of the film, it is poorly told across the board, offering nothing special or unique from Eastwood.
The story slowly moves into Eastwood’s character spending his money recklessly on things that he thinks will make his life more enjoyable. He saves a VFW that he has been hanging out in since 1958, he buys himself a gold bracelet, a fancy new Lincoln model truck, the whole nine yards. Eastwood’s character never really runs into any challenges throughout the film, but the ever-looming threat that is present in the background in the film is DEA Agent Colin Bates, played by Bradley Cooper, whose character is always two steps behind Eastwood and is consistently close to catching him red handed.
However, the film never makes us feel that tension. Instead, it is just several scenes of Cooper angrily busting small-time drug dealers and Eastwood driving around the country eating candy and singing old country songs. But on top of its story never being able to find a footing, the themes that it tries to project onto the audience are completely ridiculous. At first, it seems like the main theme of the film will be to always put your family first. But that gets abandoned rather quickly and it then moves into a message that boils down to life is short, make sure you enjoy it. Then, it strangely moves into how the younger generation spends way too much time on their phones and they shouldn’t. The longer the movie goes on the more it feels like Eastwood just feels lonely in his old age and wants to yell at younger people. Which is not a good thing to base a film around in my opinion because it just falls flat.
I will say that the rare time in the film that Eastwood is presented with a tense situation, such as almost getting caught with 100 kilos of cocaine in his trunk by a state trooper, is told rather well. The shot progression and the way this particular sequence is edited is pretty great but those moments are few and far in-between. While this scene is great and it shows that Eastwood hasn’t completely lost his touch, it makes us wonder why the rest of the film isn’t crafted in a similar way. It all adds up to yet another frustrating film for the 88-year-old director, bookending 2018 with two stinkers.
“The Mule” is a film that is not only disappointing but also left me completely dumbfounded. Its racist overtones, awkward interactions and the fact that it features Eastwood in not one by TWO threesome sex scenes, are all baffling. This is a film that will do extremely well with the senior citizen audience but it was not for me by any means, which is sad because I have enjoyed most of Eastwood’s other directorial efforts. A bad script, bad performances, unfocused direction, the unfocused tone, “The Mule” finds itself all over the place. What we were hoping to be a redemption film for Eastwood after his first poor release this year, ended up being just another poor release.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Both the combination of the acting and the way Clint Eastwood specifically shoots and edits the more tense moments is admirable, especially given his age.
THE BAD – The story is all over the place, the film can never find the right tone, the pace is awful, some of the acting feels unnatural and untruthful. It also cannot decide what it would like its deeper meaning to be. It’s constantly switching between different themes that do not relate to one another whatsoever.
THE FINAL SCORE – 2/10