The Mule (M18)
Starring Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Michael Pena
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Testy as always, Clint Eastwood is in top form as Earl Stone, a 90-year-old horticulturist who signs up as a drug mule for a Mexican cartel to pay off a mountain of debts.
To his estranged family, Earl is a different kind of ass: someone who picked work over them (Dianne Wiest is the ex-wife and Alison Eastwood, Clint’s real-life offspring, as the daughter whose wedding he skipped in order to hang out with his pals).
He’s no saint, just a good guy who’s forced by circumstances to do bad things. Never mind he’s also a benign bigot who casually calls lesbians “dykes”, Mexicans “beaners”, and black folks “negroes" — old people say things like that because they have "no filter", says one character.
Earl’s first drug run is nerve-wracking but subsequently, he gets a hang of things — and becomes addicted to the rush (and the hefty compensation). Who cares if he’s earning blood money when he’s enjoying a second wind? (How's this for job perks: He has not one, but two threesomes with hot young women!)
In a way, Eastwood’s 37th directorial feature — and the first time he’s on both sides of the camera since 2008’s Gran Torino — starts off like a dark comedy; picture The Intern filtered through Breaking Bad.
But as the temperature rises — due to a change in cartel management; a DEA task force on his tail; and a crisis at home — things take a powerful swerve for the dark, forcing Earl to take a moment of pause and reflect and repent on his actions.
“Family’s the most important thing,” laments Earl towards the end to Bradley Cooper’s hot-shot DEA agent, one of the many criminally underwritten characters he encounters. “Don’t do what I did — I put work in front of family.”
It’s an obvious message that took the maddeningly slow paced fact-based story a while to arrive at, and when it does reach its destination, the movie never quite delivers the emotional wallop it so painstakingly sets up. It runs out of gas getting there. (***)
Photo: Warner Bros