Although he has had this reputation as a hard-assed political right-winger, and an image either as "The Man With No Name" or Dirty Harry, Clint Eastwood, as both an actor and a director, has also shown a penchant for taking on challenging material. If anyone looks at what he has done as a director especially, whether it is only in that capacity or simultaneously as an actor, that ability to be challenged and succeed is particularly evident, beginning with 1971's PLAY MISTY FOR ME, and continuing with a huge filmography that includes HGIH PLAINS DRIFTER, THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES, UNFORGIVEN, THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, AMERICAN SNIPER, and SULLY, to name just a few. And at the end of 2018, he really flexed himself on both sides of the camera with THE MULE.
Eastwood's second film of 2018 as a director (after THE 15:17 TO PARIS), THE MULE is based on a true story written by Sam Dolnick of the New York Times . Eastwood portrays Earl Stone, a Korean war veteran who, in his pursuit of horticulture, has failed his own family as a father and a husband, missing important weddings, birthdays, and anniversaries. And unfortunately, his life is about to take a dark, nightmarish turn as, being strapped for cash, he takes on the job of a "mule", or drug-runner, for a sinister Mexican drug cartel kingpin (Andy Garcia), Garcia's "crew", such as it is, operates out of a garage in El Paso, just a few miles from the Mexican border, and they force him to transport their sinister "product" through the heartland of the U.S. to Chicago, and to do so as to not to attract any unwanted attention from the DEA. Paralleling this, two DEA agents (Bradley Cooper; Michael Pena) are tracking the activities of Garcia's cartel; but it is only late in the game that the DEA, and Cooper in particular, realize that Eastwood (referred to as "Tata" by Garcia's employees) is the one being forced to run those drugs, to the tune of a couple of hundred kilograms per month on average. In the meantime, Eastwood tries to patch things up with his family, particularly with his dying ex-wife (Dianne Wiest), all the while being watched and then hunted by the cartel and the DEA.
Nick Schenk, who wrote the screenplay for Eastwood's 2008 acting/directing hit GRAN TORINO, handles the screenwriting chores here; and while there are quite a few ethnic slurs and a certain amount of misogyny, THE MULE in general is a deeply humanistic film about a totally inhumane situation in which Eastwood has to do the one thing that his most hard-edged fans sometimes have had a difficult time accepting, which is to show a lot of vulnerability. Frequently, his character has guns pointed at him, as opposed to the other way around; and he can't do a whole lot about that except to follow orders, even though he knows he'll be going to jail for life (at the age of 90) if he's caught. Cooper (who was the star of AMERICAN SNIPER) does an extremely credible performance as the DEA agent, as does Pena as his partner. The film also features solid supporting turns from Laurence Fishburne, Alison Eastwood (Clint's real-life daughter), Richard Herd, and Loren Dean.
One must go after Eastwood's films, regardless of what capacity he serves in, because he is not going to be around forever. And while many might find THE MULE to be a touch offensive, ethnically speaking (which it is, but it befits the situation), even with that said, it is another notch in Eastwood's belt, both in terms of his acting and his directing.
6 out of 7 found this helpful.
Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.