Does Clint Eastwood’s ‘The Mule’ Deliver?

by Ben Martin

Clint Eastwood is a Hollywood legend and with good reason. As an actor, Eastwood was one of the definitive all-American though guys; a persona which he perfected in the Western genre. Eastwood also carried that well-honed screen persona into every other genre he’s ever worked within. Thus, I wouldn’t say he’s a most versatile actor; but for what Eastwood does as a movie star, he does very well. Behind-the-camera, Eastwood has also proven to be a competent director.
Eastwood’s latest effort, The Mule, has him once again pulling double-duty as actor and director. Inspired by Sam Dolnick’s the New York Times Magazine Article “The Sinaloa Cartel’s 90-Year Old Drug Mule”, this film tells the story of 90-year-old horticulturist, Earl Stone (Clint Eastwood). A man who has spent his life perfecting his craft; but at the cost of putting his family on the backburner, and thus tearing it apart. Alas, the business he’s devoted his life to falls on hard times. As a result, Earl becomes a cocaine mule for The Cartel in order financially provide for himself as well as the future of his granddaughter, Ginny’s (Taissa Farmiga). Despite Earl’s success as The Cartel’s most successful cross-country driving mule, he soon attracts the attention of DEA  agent, Colin Bates (Bradley Cooper).
The Mule is an uninspired crime-drama biopic that offers absolutely nothing new. To further add insult to injury, it expects us to sympathize, maybe even empathize with the protagonist of Earl simply because he’s portrayed by Eastwood; an actor whom moviegoers have enjoyed for generations. In an era of storytelling propelled by anti-heroes (particularly on TV), you would think screenwriter Nick Schenk (who also worked on Gran Torino with Eastwood) would understand that you have to put in the time to earn an audience’s admiration for anti-heroes. But, that is not the case. Then again, such attitudes toward storytelling are part-and-parcel for this film’s screenplay.
For a movie inspired by reality, The Mule seems to see the world simplistically and straightforward fashion. None of life’s complexities are present here. Nor the actual moral implications of Earl’s decisions and the consequences thereof; instead merely looking at the dangers of them. Sure, Earl expresses remorse in a scene (which was clearly inspired by the diner scene 1995’s Heat) shared with Colin Bates (Bradley Cooper), but I never really bought it. It’s hard to feel for any character when they all written as stereotypes and genre tropes with little to no dimension. Worse yet, many of the stereotypes presented are predicated upon race. The most glaring example is that the majority of the movie’s Hispanic characters are Cartel members; while all of the Caucasian characters are seen as moral or heroic.

The two positive things I can say for The Mule is that is well made and has a decent cast. After having worked in the film industry for so many years, Eastwood is a very proficient filmmaker. Still, I don’t care for his style as a director when it comes to cinematography. See, I feel that Eastwood has a bad habit of making all of his films with the same drab visual tone; even if that particular cinematic look doesn’t fit the narrative. Such visual choices are yet again the case with the film in review. Considering the film concerns a horticulturist who grows beautifully colorful flowers, I feel it would have made more sense to shoot the movie similarly; to juxtapose it with the narrative. However, Eastwood does know how to direct his cast (which includes a team up between Cooper and Michael Peña outside of The MCU) as they all deliver good performances, despite having little with which to work.
In my opinion, The Mule does not deliver the goods. While the movie is well-made enough to be watchable, it’s also trite. This film is an example of old-school simplistic storytelling at its worst. I sure hope this isn’t Eastwood’s final effort as an actor and director. If so, he would be going out on a picture that delivers old, dusty cinematic cargo. Frankly, you’re better off reading the article this movie was inspired by than seeing The Mule.

The Mule is Now Playing

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