At first look, a Clint Eastwood-helmed film depicting the true story of a 90-year-old cartel drug smuggler seems like a sure bet.
This thought is bolstered by the fact it was written by the same man he teamed with for Gran Torino a decade ago. So imagine my disappointment when The Mule turned out to be a middling rehashing of Eastwood’s same, old, tired territory.
The Mule is little more but an acting showcase for a man who really didn’t need another swan song.
Horticulturalist Earl Stone is a man who lost his family over his driving ambition, and he’s the toughest old man you ever did see. His character also has racist undertones in tact, but for no real reason I can decipher.
He begins working for the cartel to make money for his granddaughter’s wedding, but soon begins taking trips mostly for the thrill of the ride.
We’re led to believe early on Stone is altruistic, but the further he gets in, the more we realize his addiction to work has carried into his new career as a drug carrier.
He’s a deeply flawed character with fewer redeeming qualities than Eastwood would try to have you believe, and I could never really root for him.
His escapades (set to the soundtrack of Frank Sinatra and other great musicians) are gleeful instead of moody, and play more like a 15-year-old’s criminal joy ride than a tense endeavour.
It all makes for a well-acted, albeit incredibly uneven film with career best work in front of the camera from Eastwood, and strong supporting work from Bradley Cooper.
Perhaps, though, good old Clint is his own worst enemy here. He put it all into his performance, but neglected to use a guiding hand behind the lens.
The most excruciating issue is Eastwood and writer Nick Schenk have dabbled in The Mule’s themes and character’s before, and it all comes together like a mosaic of cutting-room floor scenes from an already-finished different film.
The Mule may be a beautiful, glossy mess, but it’s a mess just the same.