Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Peña, Dianne Wiest, Andy García
Run Time: 116 mins
The Mule is the latest by Clint Eastwood and his first performance in front of the camera since Trouble with the Curve back in 2012. Inspired by a true story, this film 90 year old horticulturist and Korean War veteran, Earl Stone, who becomes a drug mule for the Mexican Cartel. At the start of the film, we see that he is in financial hardship and estranged from his family. When he takes the job due to his love of driving and seeing the country, he doesn’t realise what he is doing until he takes a look at what he is transporting in the back of his van. Due to his age and unthreatening nature, the Cartel begin to entrust him with bigger amounts of cocaine and more trips. At the same time, the DEA are investigating the Cartel and start to close in on Stone. Eastwood has a knack for working with fascinating material, demonstrated by his vast filmography both in front of and behind the camera. Both American Sniper and Sully were excellent additions to his most recent filmography but The 15:17 to Paris marked a major disappointment, despite the interesting premise.
The Mule is a gripping film that ramps up the tension throughout its run time and has a commanding, grizzled performance from Eastwood. Eastwood has played this type of gruff character many times throughout his impressive career but it still works, particlarly when paired with the fascinating story. The film also teaches some well-intentioned messages and morals and there’s an admirable relationship within Stone’s family that felt authentic and also the relationship between Eastwood and Bradley Cooper’s DEA agent. I also really liked how Eastwood humanized the drug cartel members which results in some memorable characters for Eastwood to interact with. In fact, the script by Nick Schenk, who also wrote Gran Torino which is another excellent Eastwood film, is razor-sharp and efficiently paced. Much like The Old Man and the Gun, another recent release which tackles many of the same themes as this film, The Mule interrogates the existential themes of what makes Eastwood’s character work and why he continues to work for the cartel when he knows what he is doing.
The film is not without fault and there is one scene that is a mis-step in this film. There is a sequence in which Eastwood’s character is invited to meet a cartel member and what follows is a sequence of debauchery which is quite uncomfortable in how straight it is played and unnecessary.
Ultimately, The Mule is a return to form for Eastwood after a disappointing blip and is a gripping account of this interesting narrative. Out of the films Eastwood has directed in the 2010s, it would be a close call between The Mule and Sully between which is the best. It’s a shame this film hasn’t made a bigger impression critically within the film industry and much like Robert Redford in The Old Man and the Gun, if this does end up being Clint Eastwood’s swansong in front of the camera, it would be a fine note to go out on.