“The Mule” is directed by Clint Eastwood who also stars as Earl Stone, a 90-year-old Korean War veteran and horticulturist. Earl has spent most of his life as a planter. While he’s managed to become a successful entrepreneur in his hometown, his life’s passion has left him alienated from his family. Because of the changing times, however, along with the growing popularity of the internet, Earl is forced to foreclose on his business. Without a job, and estranged from his family, Earl searches for a new way to occupy his time.
Fortune soon comes to him as Earl is approached with an interesting offer that promises to pay well. All he has to do is drive to one location and deliver some cargo—no questions asked. Despite the shady details, Earl is fascinated by the venture and accepts it. But after running a few successful deliveries for his anonymous employers, curiosity gets the better of Earl as he investigates the mysterious cargo, only to discover it’s drugs—drugs for the Mexican Cartel. To make matters worse, the DEA begins to crack down as they attempt to locate and apprehend the mysterious new mule in the cartel. The film also stars: Bradley Cooper, Dianne Wiest, Andy Garcia, Michael Peña, and Laurence Fishburne.
Given the plot and advertising for “The Mule,” I was anticipating a very grim and gritty kind of film. However, what I got instead was a rather interesting Crime-Drama. In fact, this is one of the few times I’ve seen Clint Eastwood in a role where he wasn’t the mean, tough as nails, character. In “The Mule,” Eastwood plays an optimistic, happy-go-lucky kind of person who is just trying to enjoy the remaining years of his life. Because, mild spoiler warning, even when Clint Eastwood’s character discovers what he’s transporting is drugs, he still keeps doing it. It isn’t because he’s afraid of what’ll happen if he tries to quit; it’s more because he’s enjoying the work. Not the drug part mind you, just the feeling of being able to work his own way, on his own time. Plus, the money helps too.
There’s almost a fascinating theme of colliding values throughout the film as well. It’s the story about a man from a different generation who enters a new world—one with greed, distrust, and technology. Despite the shocking revelation of his employers’ intentions, Earl is never truly afraid. Maybe it’s because he’s a veteran, or maybe it’s because he’s lived for so long, but Earl never lets any of the Cartel’s thugs intimidate him. There are even moments where he’s acting pleasant towards them; as if they were his neighbors. And in a genre that’s oversaturated with the Cartel thugs being written as toothless, murderous, brutes, it’s interesting to see a story that shows despite their questionable morality and lifestyle, they are still human. In fact, it’s even more realistic considering “The Mule” is based on a true story.
The original story comes from Leo Sharp, a man in his 80’s who became known as the oldest drug mule for the Cartel. The movie borrows some elements from the Leo Sharp story. Sharp was a war veteran—World War II in fact—who went on to be a successful horticulturist, until he eventually lost his business due to changing times and technology. Given his clean record and age, he was considered the perfect man to assume the role of a drug mule—a role he held for two years until his arrest in 2011.
“The Mule” is not a perfect film, however. If I could best describe it, I would say it’s like a flawed gem. It’s gorgeous to look at, but the defects are noticeable when you stop and look at it. The acting, directing, and cinematography are all great, but it’s the writing where I feel this film stagnates. There are some parts of the story which I feel could have easily been cut or rewritten. “The Mule” has more than a few scenes where our protagonist would interact with another character, who I thought would later appear to contribute to the plot in some manner, but instead, we never see them again. Sometimes there would be an unnecessary scene that would go on for so long that I found myself thinking, “Okay, you can cut now and move on!”
Every scene in a story has to serve the plot, the world building, or the characters in some manner. Even if it’s small talk or a random joke, it absolutely HAS to serve a purpose. If not, then you either have to rewrite or cut it. The one major flaw with “The Mule” is it feels like the script needed more polishing.
“The Mule” is rated R for language along with brief sexuality and nudity. Despite its flaws, however, this was still an interesting and enjoyable film that I’m glad I saw. If you’re a fan of Clint Eastwood’s work, or stories that delve into the underworld of the Cartel, then “The Mule” is one I recommend giving a look. Which is why the final score is a 7.5 out of 10.