You have to hand it to Clint Eastwood. With a career spanning decades both as actor and director, the veteran filmmaker is showing no signs to slowing down and is still just as motivated and excited by his craft in his late 80s, as he has always been. In his new film The Mule, which comes a year after the universally panned The 15:17 to Paris, Eastwood is back with a much tighter and decidedly more coherent story in a film about a 90-year old drug mule which is loosely based on a New York Times Magazine Article “The Sinaloa Cartel’s 90-Year Old Drug Mule” written by Sam Dolnick.
Earl Stone (Eastwood) is in his 90s, he is broke, lonely and estranged from his wife (Dianne Wiest) and daughter (Alison Eastwood). To make things worse, Earl is also facing foreclosure on his horticultural business, a foreclosure which he blames mostly on the internet. When he is offered a job which requires him to deliver packages in his tired old truck for some shady characters, Earl agrees to the deal without asking too many questions and is surprised to be rewarded by a hefty sum each time. What Earl doesn’t yet know is that he has just signed up to work for one of the most notorious Mexican drug cartels, and has been responsible for moving hundreds of kilos of cocaine across state lines for them.
With each trip turning out to be even more profitable for both Earl and his boss (Andy Garcia), the old man soon finds himself assigned a handler named Julio (Ignacio Serricchio) to keep an eye on him whilst on the job. But he isn’t the only one keeping a watchful eye on Earl, the mysterious new drug mule nicknamed Tata is also on the radar of determined DEA agent Colin Bates (Bradley Cooper) and his boss (Laurence Fishburne).
With shades of Gran Torino, The Mule is another Eastwood vehicle which sees the notoriously right-wing star rage against modern life. From his hatred for mobile phones, to the pointlessness of the internet, Earl is offered as deeply likeable, and is even forgiven the odd un-PC faux pas and ill-judged exchange about race. Eastwood presents a film which is far from perfect, but which is nonetheless hugely compelling. While some deliveries can seem stunted and jarringly stagey deliveries, one cannot help but warm to The Mule despite its many contrivances.
For his part, it can be said that without a shadow of a doubt, that Bradley Cooper saves the film from being another disastrous production which relies too often on racial stereotypes and cliches to be taken seriously. Cooper gives his role the gravitas the rest of the film is lacking so much in throughout.
Elsewhere, Taissa Farmiga (American Horror Story, The Nun) shines in the role of Earl’s granddaughter Ginny, while Michael Peña gives an impressive performance as a DEA agent on hot pursuit of the old man.
On the whole, The Mule does just enough of what is expected from it, but is sadly still lacking on almost every front. Perhaps not Eastwood’s best work to date, but definitely an improvement on his last.