Massive spoiler alert: I’m going to reveal most of the content of The Mule, so you don’t have to sit through it yourself. It’s not horrible, but I turned to my wife half way through the film and whispered, “This movie is stupid!”
That said, I really like Clint Eastwood movies. At least, I used to. But imagine if your favorite professional baseball player was allowed to continue running the bases well into his 80s. At 88 years of age, Clint continues to produce, direct and star in movies that draw crowds primarily because of his legendary career and star power. He still has that “Do I feel lucky?” attitude he became famous for in 1971’s Dirty Harry, his perennial scowl and chiseled good looks, even with wrinkles and thinning white hair. But he’s almost become a parody of himself, and I think he realizes it. It’s a shame, because he’s directed many fine movies, starred in countless classics, and is responsible for several iconic sayings, not the least of which is, “Go ahead, make my day,” from Sudden Impact in 1983. Perhaps the movie Gran Torino in 2008 should have been his acting swan song.
The film starts at a frantic pace with a series of short segments that had me wondering if the movie might only be thirty minutes long. Clint plays aging horticulturist Earl Stone who has chosen career over family his entire married life. Only his granddaughter has a good relationship with him, but he later risks ruining that too. It’s at her engagement party that he makes a connection that leads to his new job as a drug mule. He starts taking cross-country trips and making wads of cash that he spends as fast as he’s paid. Some of it is to help friends and family. Much of it goes for jewelry, women, a new truck, and his wreck of a foreclosed house. A fool and his money…
It was as if they were in a hurry to fully explain the key relationships and the main character’s personal history, and then get on with the story. That these details couldn’t be revealed along the way is just lazy scriptwriting. I wondered if Eastwood also wrote this script, given the number of attractive young women he has scenes with, dancing, or, well, other stuff. Maybe that’s just why he liked the script.
Speaking of that, I really didn’t want to see the legendary Clint Eastwood with his shirt off at almost 90 years of age. Not even while he quipped about needing a cardiologist as two Mexican prostitutes showed him a good time at the behest of a drug kingpin. His old age becomes a vehicle for inappropriate humor. The old guy doesn’t realize, or care, that society has advanced beyond the offensive terms and comments he tosses casually around, seeming perversely charming at the same time. Nick Schenk, who wrote Gran Torino, delivered this script as well. You don’t need to be a great writer if you score Clint Eastwood’s directorial support. And the plot itself is fairly interesting given that it’s loosely based on a true story.
By now we all know that drug kingpins sit in chairs waiting to be visited by characters in movies, smoking cigars, drinking heavily and acting like a favorite uncle until they get angry. Then they suddenly toggle into sinister, explosive monsters that frighten all the tattooed, muscle-bound Mexicans that work for them. The swimming pool filled to overflowing with bikini-clad chicas is always right there in the background. I can’t even imagine the wild fluctuations of pH and chlorine levels in that sex soup.
But Eastwood seems to thrive on clichés, because he has sort of become one. I hated when Hollywood scriptwriters realized that catchphrases could go culturally viral and started trying way too hard to come up with the next big line. If there was an attempt to create one in this film, I missed it. But it was sort of amusing when Bradley Cooper commented that, “You guys (meaning old) get to the point where you don’t have filters” and Eastwood responds, “I never thought I had one.”
I’m sure Bradley Cooper agreed to be in The Mule for the honor of being directed by Clint Eastwood – again. His first turn was in American Sniper. Brad may be the heir apparent to Eastwood’s place on the silver screen, hopefully right after The Mule. Brad plays a DEA agent whose boss, Laurence Fishburne, is repeatedly on his back to “get more busts. We need busts.” Oh, he’s under pressure to make arrests? I get it.
In The Mule we get to meet Alison Eastwood, Clint’s real life daughter, who plays…his daughter. And Diane Wiest plays Clint’s wife, haranguing him all the way to her grave about his absence as a husband and father, with a death scene in which her overly Botoxed lips looked like a series of duck mouth selfies as she gasps for her last breath again and again. Taissa Farmiga, who plays the granddaughter, has possibly the most awkward, worst acted scene in the movie.
Earl is eventually caught in a very non-climactic police chase and barricade. By this time, police and cartel members all seem to sort of pity or like him, displaying their well known sympathetic sides. I guess caustic old guys just have a way of worming their way into your heart.
The final scene of the movie is filmed at Marion Correctional Center in Illinois, where Earl is happily tending the prison gardens. It’s reminiscent of Bird Man of Alcatraz, which is ironic, since Eastwood starred in Escape From Alcatraz in 1979 – 40 years ago!
If you like hardy-har-har casual racist humor and an endless road trip with Clint Eastwood, this film’s for you. If you’re a diehard Eastwood fan, and you’ve seen every one of his films, wait for this one to come out on TV to complete your viewing portfolio. As his daughter quips when Earl is escorted away to prison, “At least we’ll know where you are.”