The Mule Movie Review: Late-life redemptive effort

Updated: Jan 06, 2019, 07:46 IST | Johnson Thomas

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

The Mule Movie Review: Late-life redemptive effort
The Mule

The Mule
Director: Clint Eastwood
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Peña, Dianne Wiest, Andy Garcia, Alison Eastwood, Taissa Farmiga, Ignacio Serricchio, Loren Dean, Eugene Cordero, Robert LaSardo
Rating:Rating

Eighty-eight-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. The experience delineates the nearly destitute senior Earl Stone’s (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). Their rejection of him when he runs out of money may be painful to watch, but it is 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 frailer and less imposing than 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.

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 bask 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 world-view.

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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