At the age of eighty-eight, most people would be enjoying the remainder of the their lives with family and such. Not Clint Eastwood. He directs films like The Mule, a true story about a ninety-plus horticulturist who has fallen on bad times and becomes one of the most “productive” drug mules for the Sinaloa drug cartel in Mexico. For those who are unaware, a “mule” in the drug world refers to a person who transports drugs between the cartel and its distributors who then sell their poison on the streets.
Earl Stone (played by Eastwood, himself) is a man who had a thriving business of growing Daylilies, which bloom for one day and then die. The Mule opens with the internet just getting started and Earl is not one for technology. He doesn’t even have a cell phone or know what texting is. He is the kind of man who does business the old fashioned way. He goes out, meets people and relies on a handshake. Seventeen years later, Earl has lost his business and even his home. When a friend of his granddaughter gives him a business card and tells him to call, Earl becomes the oldest mule in the business. Since Earl loves to drive long distances and has done so for his business over the years, he is perfect for the job.
The Mule, as I said, is based on a true story. They have changed the names of the people involved starting with Leo Sharp, who the Earl Stone character is based on. Hot on his trail are dedicated DEA agents, played with considerable coolness by Bradley Cooper and Michael Pena and their boss (Laurence Fishburne) who is constantly breathing down their necks for results. Earl, seemingly oblivious to the attention he is getting, keeps on truckin’ even at the expense of his own family which can barely stomach the sight of him. Dianne Wiest is great as Earl’s ex wife who is so disappointed that Earl has never been there for her but still loves him, regardless. Eastwood’s real life daughter, Alison Eastwood and Taissa Farmiga play Earl’s daughter and granddaughter and are quite good, too. The acting in The Mule is all first rate.
The Mule was written by Nick Schenk who wrote the Clint Eastwood film Gran Torino and like that film, The Mule is about a guy who is a veteran and a decent man who has been left behind by society. He is still seeking to find where he fits in life but is without a clue on how to do it. Schenk’s script (based on the New York Times Magazine article “The Sinaloa Cartel’s 90-Year Old Drug Mule” by Sam Dolnick) is thoughtful and filled with insight on family but knows what it is talking about when it comes to the drug trade. It does a great job of restraining the material making it more believable. This is not a flashy film and it is a better film because of its nature. There is a lot more to The Mule than I have told you about here because it is better to see it for yourself. I try my best to give spoiler free reviews.
Where Gran Torino was filled with vulgarity and Eastwood’s character was a lot more grizzled and coarse, his Earl Stone is a quiet soul and looks for the good in everybody he meets, even tattooed, drug dealing gangbangers. The Mule is a toned down version of Gran Torino in its tone but a different film, altogether. Yes, there are familiar themes that populate each film but each film has its own vitality. Eastwood directs The Mule with style and grace and simply lets the story unfold naturally. This is a quiet, character driven film that works exceedingly well. Eastwood shows at eighty-eight that he still has it. The scowl, the gruff delivery and still tough after all these years, The Mule is vintage Eastwood.
The Mule – ****1/2 out of 5
The Mule – Rated R for language, brief nudity, brief violence and adult situations
The Mule run time is 116 minutes.
The Mule is now playing in theaters. Check your local listings for times and locations nearest you.