The Mule movie review: Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper infiltrate the world of Narcos
Director - Clint Eastwood
Cast - Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Michael Pena, Dianne Wiest, Taissa Farmiga, Laurence Fishburne, Andy Garcia
Rating - 4/5
If The Mule were to become the last film Clint Eastwood makes, then it is a rather melancholic way to go out. Although the chances of Eastwood retiring as director are slim - this is his second movie of 2018 - it could very well be his final film as an actor. And if that turns out to be true, with The Mule he’s addressed any doubts one might have had about him - both as an artist and as a person.
Eastwood’s politics have come in the way of his storytelling, there’s no mistake about that, but so have Steven Spielberg’s and Adam McKay’s and Oliver Stone’s. There is nothing unusual about this, other than the fact that guys like Eastwood are an endangered species.
Watch The Mule trailer here
It is perhaps his newly developed image as an ornery old coot - he was literally born during the Great Depression - that has rubbed liberal Hollywood the wrong way. A closer look reveals a man who has advocated for gun laws, despite having played some of the most iconic gunslingers of all time; he has expressed apathy about same sex relationships, which is how it should ideally be; other people’s sexual preferences should be none of your business; and has publicly said that he will not vote for US president Donald Trump.
He is simply an old-fashioned Republican; deeply patriotic, an advocate for the armed forces; the sort of guy who believes in hard, manual work, respects blue-collar America and has a thorough disdain for what he likes to call the ‘p*ssy generation’. That would be yours, mine, ours.
It’s impossible to talk about The Mule without also talking about Eastwood’s troublesome politics, because his recent cinematic output is a direct product of his ideologies. The Mule is in many ways a companion piece to his last great work, a film with which it shares writer Nick Schenk, Gran Torino - released a decade ago to phenomenal box office response.
These movies can be interpreted as Eastwood’s attempts to understand the ‘p*ssy generation’ and its political correctness, its liberal attitude towards others and their personal choices, and its satisfaction in doing nothing for a living. He might not agree with it but he will never stop wanting to learn. As strange as it may sound, he is trying, through these movies, to become a better person.
In one scene, his character, Earl Stone, scolds a black man for relying on his phone and not on his brains and two hands to help him fix a flat tyre. While he’s giving the man a stern talking to, and also taking the opportunity to dismiss an entire generation for being lazy, he lets slips the ’n-word’. ‘We don’t use that word anymore,’ the man tells him, as Earl feigns surprise and gets to work on that flat. For a moment, he is transported back to the America of old, the America that he misses so much, and the America for whom this film is made.
As in Gran Torino, Eastwood plays a cantankerous Vietnam vet in The Mule. The film opens in the middle of George W Bush’s second term, and swiftly jumps ahead by 12 years. The Barack Obama era has left Earl in financial ruin, it has taken away his business, a threat of foreclosure looms over his house, and the flowers in his garden have withered away.
Not only does Earl have nothing to show for all his years, his relationship with his family has disintegrated to dust; neither his ex-wife nor their daughter wants anything to do with him. He realises, perhaps too late, that he made the wrong choices in life, having convinced himself in his youth that working 60 hours a week, providing for his family, was the proper thing to do.
Now, living alone in his crumbling house, he’s become the sort of guy who’s prone to casual racism, presumably because no one’s been around to tell him he can’t behave like that anymore. And he seems to get a kick out of it.
Sensing desperation, Earl is approached by a shady man who offers him the opportunity to make a quick buck driving cargo in his ancient pick-up truck. Earl hesitates, but agrees, mostly because he needs the money. To his surprise, he learns that his new employers are members of Mexico’s famed Sinaloa cartel, and that the cargo he’d be transporting is hundreds of kilos of drugs.
Earl soon realises that because of his age - he’s 90 - and his race, it is virtually impossible for him to raise any sort of suspicion among the authorities, and thus begins his journey on the path of redemption.
The Mule is based on a remarkable true story, reported by the New York Times in 2014, about 87-year-old drug mule Leo Sharp and DEA agent Jeff Moore, played in the film by Eastwood’s American Sniper star, Bradley Cooper.
Cooper is very much an understated supporting presence in the film, which largely belongs to Eastwood. He is effortless in roles such as this, and his plain filmmaking style gives the sense that he can now direct in his sleep.
The Mule is certainly not among his best work, but it is a tremendously effective artistic statement by a man who will never run out of things to say.