The Mule Movie Review - Late-life redemptive effort

Updated: May 18, 2019, 18:12 IST | Johnson Thomas

With every film, like in this one too, Clint Eastwood's politics also comes out loud and clear. He may be intriguing as a person but not always politically correct as an actor-director.

The Mule

U/A: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Director: Clint Eastwood
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Pena, Dianne Wiest
Rating: Ratings

88-year-old Clint Eastwood's 37th feature has him directing and acting in a drama about an elderly man whose late-life drug-running, egged on by desperate circumstances, becomes a tool for heavy rumination regarding conscience, morality, and reclamation.

Nick Schenk (of 'Gran Torino' fame) fashions this screenplay inspired by the New York Times Magazine article "The Sinaloa Cartel's 90-Year-Old Drug Mule" about a true event, written by Sam Dolnick. The original mule was Leo Sharp, a World War II veteran and great-grandfather but for this film, Eastwood and Schenk take some creative liberties to present a sensibility that is more Eastwood than the real-life event would oblige with.

The filmed experience delineates the nearly destitute senior Earl Stone's (Clint Eastwood) tryst with criminality conspired by an alienated family construct and a flagging business. Earl was never there when he was needed by his family, ex-wife Mary (Dianne Wiest) and especially daughter Iris (Alison Eastwood, and their rejection of him when he runs out of money, may be painful to watch but it's fairly justified in the schema of broken relationships damaged by ego trips. Eastwood, of course, lives the part. He fits the role but as far as the fan-image goes he seems much frailer and less imposing than what he did in his last cinema outing. But that physical deterioration doesn't take anything away from the manner in which he has constructed this slow-burning, contemplative, engaging, humorous tale which appears to be somewhat autobiographical in the manner in which it deals with relationships that are central to the story here.

Check out the trailer here:

We can see that Federal agents led by a DEA special agent in charge (Laurence Fishburne), and newbie Colin Bates (Bradley Cooper), trying to nail some cartel drug runners out West, are eventually going to come across this unsuspicious drug-runner but the film is not about that cat and mouse chase as much as it is about a conscience finally coming awake and Earl making robust efforts to atone for his past mistakes.

Eastwood's mule seems to glory in the freedom that easy money brings him and appears to be unaware of the hellish depths that the murderous cartels would reach – and that's precisely how the film plays out. With every film, like in this one too, Eastwood's politics also comes out loud and clear. He may be intriguing as a person but not always politically correct as an actor-director voicing his personal worldview. Earl's eventual redemption also comes a little too easy given the havoc he may have engineered by his flirting with the cartel. The tone shifts are jerky, the narrative veers to the ponderous and the experience doesn't come across as entirely fulfilling –even though the cinematography and minimalistic appurtenances lend shadowy depth to the experience. The supporting characters don't get much screen-time even though they are integral to the plotting. Eastwood hogs the show here. His apparent disconnect with the consequences relating to his actions is a hurdle that's difficult to overcome. And that's also because Eastwood's image still manages to over-power his latter life performances. As an audience, we are more likely to be distraught over his real-life physical deterioration than we are about the reel life character's disempowerment.

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