I left the screening of The Mule Googling “how old is Clint Eastwood?” (88) and “is Clint Eastwood a good actor or have we all been duped?” (undecided).
Starring Eastwood, directed by Eastwood and produced by Eastwood, The Mule is the Hollywood legend’s latest passion project, based on the New York Time’s article “The Sinaloa Cartel’s 90-Year-Old Drug Mule”.
We are introduced to Earl Stone (Eastwood) in 2005, a man who seemingly loves his prized daylilies more than his ironically named daughter, Iris (Alison Eastwood, Eastwood’s real-life daughter), whose wedding he misses for a lily convention. Earl lives it up at the convention, shouting the whole bar a drink and flirting with women twenty years his junior, while his abandoned daughter wipes her tears with steely resolve.
Jump forward twelve years and Earl is dismissing his three employees. It seems the lily trade has taken a tumble and Earl is facing financial ruin. His truck loaded with very random bits of furniture, he arrives at his granddaughter Ginny’s (Taissa Farmiga) engagement party. They have a moment to greet each other joyfully before Earl’s ex-wife Mary (Dianne Wiest) and Iris arrive, kick up a fuss in front of the guests and storm off. Earl leaves as well, but not before he laments to a young man that he has never had a driving ticket. The stranger tells him he has friends who would pay Earl “just to drive”.
Queue the rest of the film – Earl begins working for a cartel, driving up and down the highway with cocaine in the back of his truck. He unbelievably, impossibly, naively, does not realise what he is carting until his fourth run. Earl gets in deep with the cartel, upgrading to a flashier truck, saving his house from foreclosure and donating a hefty amount of cash to the local Veteran hangout. Things start to go south as Earl finds himself unable to back out from his driving job when things get dicey. Intermittently, we are witness to DEA Agent Colin Bates (Bradley Cooper) and his partner Trevino (Michael Peña) working together to hunt down the newest mule in town.
Although the cinematography is stunning and is complemented by the well-crafted score, The Mule struggles to engage its viewers for any significant amount of time. Staggering along at a shockingly slow pace, the film lacks nuance – the Latino characters are either very bad or very good, the relationships between Earl and his family members are shallow and stereotyped, and Earl is barely more than a cut-out version of an elderly man struggling to adapt to the modern world.
Dianne Wiest is lumped with some poorly written lines, and Earl’s constant filler words of “alright” and “okay” had me wondering if they were scripted or were just Eastwood attempting to remember his lines. Earl is fixated on young people wasting their lives on their mobile phones, and the joke is brought up so often that it quickly becomes stale. The moral redemption plotline hastily inserted in the latter half of the film made me wince at its flimsiness.
Going into this film, I did not expect to see the elderly and frail-looking Eastwood engage in a threesome with two beautiful twenty-somethings. But that, unfortunately, is what I did see.
I spent the first half of the film fretting about Eastwood’s health, and the second half waiting for the DEA to catch up with the geriatric mule and bring the film to an end. The Mule is definitely one for the Clint Eastwood diehards.
The movie was inspired by the story of Leo Sharp, a World War II veteran in his 80s who became the world’s oldest and most prolific drug mule for the Sinaloa Cartel.