Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Premise: Based on a true story. A ninety year old (Clint Eastwood) horticulturist is employed by a drug cartel to transport narcotics across the United States.
What Works: The Mule is the story of a man torn between the excitement of life on the road and his duty to his family. The movie is directed by Clint Eastwood who also stars in the lead role and while The Mule is as solidly made as anything he has helmed recently, what really stands out is Eastwood’s performance. This is his first role in eight years and Eastwood commits to the material in a way he hasn’t in a long time, maybe since 1992’s Unforgiven. Eastwood plays Earl, a horticulturist who is alienated from his family and resorts to trafficking narcotics to stabilize his finances. The Mule is a reminder of just how good an actor Eastwood can be. Earl is complex and nuanced and flawed; he has deliberately avoided his family because he feels like a failure as a husband and a father and he attempts to make up for it by throwing himself into his work. The family drama is the best part of The Mule. Despite its unusual premise, there is something recognizable about Earl’s regrets and Eastwood carries that shame throughout his performance. He’s also quite funny and The Mule showcases Eastwood’s charisma. The movie is his show and Eastwood is captivating throughout it.
What Doesn’t: Better movies about the drug trade reveal something about capitalism or criminal justice. The Mule doesn’t do that. This is really a personal story about a man and his family and in that respect it succeeds. But as a drug story The Mule mostly remains on the surface of its subject. As well made as much of this movie is, there is one troubling scene that awkwardly sticks out. After several successful deliveries, Earl is invited to a celebration at the drug lord’s mansion and the party is attended by a lot of scantily clad women. In and of itself, the scene is justified because it shows the life Earl has gotten himself into. But the way this scene is shot is another matter. The camera fixates on the women’s bodies and especially their backsides while deliberately obscuring their faces. It’s a moment of cheap objectification that looks like something out of a Michael Bay movie. It’s beneath this film and the sequence is out of place with the rest of this picture.
Bottom Line: The Mule showcases an excellent performance by Clint Eastwood. It’s a solid drama about a man attempting to make up for his failures and whatever its shortcomings as a drug story it more than makes up for as a domestic drama.
Episode: #730 (December 23, 2018)