A 90-year-old horticulturist and Korean War veteran is caught transporting $3 million worth of cocaine through Illinois for a Mexican drug cartel.
Based on the true story of a WWII veteran who became a drug courier for a Mexican cartel in his 80s, ‘The Mule’ is an entertaining, if slight movie, given extra narrative heft from the appearance of Clint Eastwood in the central role. This is Clint Eastwood’s first appearance in front of the camera since 2012’s ‘Trouble with the Curve’ and it’s like he’s never been away in a sweet, charming performance that reminds audiences of his immeasurable screen presence. The film is written by Nick Schenk who also wrote ‘Gran Torino’, and directed by Eastwood himself, and under the crime drama aesthetic is a story about how it’s never too late to change who you are.
Earl Stone is a 90-year-old horticulturist who finds himself in financial difficulty when his business goes under. Estranged from his family and desperate for money, a chance encounter leads him to become a mule for a Mexican drug cartel, tasked with transporting cocaine across the country. His age, spotless criminal and driving records and his race mean he faces very little suspicion, enabling him to go undetected and become one of the most valuable assets to the cartel. The film follows Stone as he goes about his new ‘job’, frequently clashing with his ‘superiors’ and enjoying the opportunities his new-found wealth provides him. Eastwood can play stubborn old curmudgeon’s in his sleep and Earl Stone is cut from the same cloth as ‘Gran Torino’s’ Walt Kowalski, and his skill as an actor is in finding the heart underneath, and in ‘The Mule’ he manages to do so. The narrative focusing on Stone’s numerous drug runs is the film’s main focus but the strength of ‘The Mule’ comes when the focus switches to his family and the regrets Stone has about the way he’s lived his life. In these aspects ‘The Mule’ is surprisingly poignant and Eastwood has some wonderfully moving scenes with Dianne Wiest who plays his ex-wife Mary.
There is a subplot focusing on the DEA agents who are trying to bring the cartel down by focusing on their supply runs and people like Earl, but ‘The Mule’ never really justifies the time spent with these characters even with welcome appearances from the likes of Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne and Michael Pena. Despite threatening to do so on several occasions, the impending DEA/Earl/Cartel showdown never really takes off and the conclusion is marked by a curious lack of suspense, but thanks to Eastwood’s compelling performance I was fully invested in Earl Stone’s fate and I really enjoyed ‘The Mule’.
For another recent film with a similar narrative around an old criminal, ‘The Old Man & The Gun’ was also a lot of fun!
Directed By: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Pena, Dianne Wiest, Andy Garcia, Alison Eastwood, Taissa Farmiga, Ignacio Serricchio, Loren Dean, Victor Rasuk, Manny Montana, Clifton Collins Jr., Noel Gugliemi, Robert LaSardo and Eugene Cordero