Review by J.T. Johnson
DIRECTOR: Clint Eastwood
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Yves Bélanger
WRITER: Nick Schenk
MUSIC: Arturo Sandoval
The premise behind “The Mule” is an interesting one. Director and actor Clint Eastwood plays Earl Stone, a 90-year-old man who has always chosen work over his family. He’s a renowned horticulturist who eventually hits hard times financially due to the rise of the internet and better business models that run him out of business.
Earl eventually runs into a Mexican laborer that points him in the direction of a drug cartel. Due to his perfect driving record and having knowledge of 41 states in the U.S. that he’s travelled to over time, the cartel makes him a “mule”. This means that he drives a truck filled with cocaine to a specified spot and when he wakes up the next day, the product is gone and Earl is left with large sums of money for his services.
Over time, he becomes extremely successful and makes even more money. He then becomes a sort of “Robin Hood” character and does things such as give money to his granddaughter to get through college and he pays to renovate the V.F.W. that he frequents after a fire damages the building. He even manages to make time for his estranged family and learns a valuable lesson about picking family over work and over trying to build up your reputation for those outside your family.
Little does Earl know, though, that DEA agent Colin Bates (Bradley Cooper) is hot on the cartel’s tail and a run-in with Earl is only inevitable. This could have been a great source of drama for the film. “The Mule” is solidly directed by Eastwood and the performances all around are pretty damn good, but the problem is ultimately with the screenplay.
The movie moves at a snail’s pace and it never seems to want to pick things up. The movie heads towards some pretty predictable outcomes yet it doesn’t mind waiting around to get to the end. Instead of genuine family drama, I never felt that we got to know Earl’s family enough to really care about them.
On the flip side, there is no solid tension between Earl and the DEA agents coming after them. Agent Bates is your usual tough guy law enforcement officer that also ignores his own family in order to catch his man. The movie does attempt to draw parallels between Colin and Earl, but it is so brief that it doesn’t ultimately register.
Believe it or not, the movie is based on Leo Sharp, a real 88-year-old man that was a drug mule for the cartels for over 10 years. That means that there was a real-life story here that could have led to a really good dramatic film. Unfortunately, Eastwood and company settle for forced sentimentality and thinly developed fictional characters that make “The Mule” a total bore despite the decent direction and solid performances.