The Mule: A flawed yet charming film that shows that Eastwood has still got it.
Clint Eastwood is undoubtedly one of the most talented actors and director of all-time. He’s created characters and stories that captured the attention of tons of moviegoers and even with his incredible stumble earlier this year with The 15:17 to Paris, I was sure that he showcase his true talents with The Mule. Well, after seeing it, I can say that I was mostly right as Eastwood’s The Mule is a highly entertaining thriller about a 90-year-old drug mule’s evasion of the authorities.
Eastwood is in the lead role as Earl Stone, a man who’s life of putting work as a horticulturist (someone who works with plants) over spending time with his family. Stone eventually becomes alone after he not only loses his business, but also the love from his family. This leads him to unknowingly, at first, turn to a life of being a drug mule for the cartel. However, while money may be coming into Earl’s pockets, a small group of DEA agents (Bradley Cooper, Michael Pena, Laurence Fishburne) are hot on his tails and begin a cat and mouse chase to stop the drugs from spreading once and for all.
Now, I think the only real way to talk about what I liked and disliked about The Mule is to give a nod to one Eastwood’s most iconic performance by going over The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of The Mule.
At its core, The Mule is a truly fun, funny, and heart-breaking journey of a man looking for redemption of his past mistakes. Stone is a crude man at times, but with a truly stellar performance from Eastwood, you wouldn’t fully realize it. Eastwood makes Stone truly charming at times and even when you may disagree with something that he says or does, he still comes across as likeable somehow.
His path to redemption with his family also is incredibly heartfelt. His re-building of his relationships with his family feels like a driving force of the film and the scene of Stone and his ex-wife reconciling on her death bed left me a little misty-eyed. As a whole the film has enough going for it to make it an enjoyable watch.
When it’s comes to Bradley Cooper performances this is definitely his most forgettable. The same can be said for Pena and Fishburne as they don’t necessarily give bad performances or anything like that; it’s just that they aren’t given much to work with and their characters are just so generic. Even the problems they have are so generic and of course Cooper’s character deals with the typical family issues that Stone has and they even have a face to face conversation about it before he realizes who stone is.
The story beats are just uninspired at times and feel like they hit the stereotypical and predictable story moments that end up leaving its viewers with very little to be surprised by. Frankly, the film constantly felt like a lesser version of Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me if You Can to me and that’s not something you want to hear coming out of an Eastwood film. It was also missing the explosive and intense finale that many would hope for when watching a film like this.
To say that The Mule is kind of racist wouldn’t be totally inaccurate. Earl’s racist and ignorant comments feel like they are just used to create awkward laughter and not to resolve his ignorant mindset. It’s almost like that kind of awkward laughter that’s usually follows by an “Oh my God” or a “Wow, I can’t believe he said that. It really only makes you laugh because of how stunningly awful it is and after the first few times, I stopped finding it funny.
Earl is not like Eastwood’s other excellent performance in Gran Torino as Walt Kowalski, where he does one final act to redeem himself for his racist actions, In The Mule, this doesn’t happen with Stone whatsoever and it leaves a sour taste in my mouth when thinking about him, It also opens up the debate if Earl is too unlikable to want to see him find his redemption. There are definitely moments where you can see that maybe he has just had it rough, but I found it tough to say whether or not his redemption is fully earned.
Now, even with the bad and the ugly being fully present in The Mule, there’s still plenty of good brought by both Eastwood’s direction and performance. Sadly, this was a film that I thought would be a big awards contender when the time came around, but after seeing it I can kind of see why it didn’t reach that potential. Nevertheless, Eastwood redeems himself from delivering the lows of The 15:17 to Paris and show that he’s still got the charm to deliver a fun and enjoyable ride.