If anyone can legitimately claim to be a fixture in Hollywood, it’s Clint Eastwood. At 88, he appeared in 72 films and T.V. episodes since his debut in 1955. He began directing himself in 1971 and with this film, marks his 40th turn behind the cameras. Winner of 4 Oscars and innumerable other awards, there would seem little else for him to accomplish, yet he’s back once again in this adaptation of a New York Times article that chronicled the exploits of a 90-year old drug runner chosen by a Mexican cartel because he never had a traffic violation.
Aided by the A-list Bradley Cooper and a compliment of recognizable Hollywood faces (Lawrence Fishburne, Andy Garcia, Michael Peña and Dianne Wiest) Mule is an odd mixture of whimsy, bathos and road trip, coated in flagrant sexist macho excusable only because of the star himself has become the old geezer he portrays here.
Eastwood plays Earl Stone: failed husband, unsuccessful horticulturalist, absentee father, Korean War vet and all-around grumpy old man who finds himself driving his decrepit pick-up truck from south Texas to Chicago to deliver a series of mysterious black duffel bags. As the miles pile up, so does Earl’s standard of living, enabling him to finance his granddaughter’s wedding, the renovation of his hometown’s Veteran’s club and any number of late night trysts with hookers found at hotels along his routes. Drug Enforcement Agents Cooper and Peña finally apprehend him at an interstate roadblock as impressively conceived as it is improbable.
To his credit, Eastwood plays Earl for exactly what he is-- a doddering old man. At 6’4”, Eastwood has no difficulty employing stooped shoulders, shuffling feet and a weathered face to effectively convey a man in physical decline, but The Mule’s storyline can’t sustain a feature length movie and the smarmy plot resolution that paints this felon in a more sympathetic life shreds the film’s early scene’s of their geriatric, felonious zest.
Eastwood’s made some fine movies on both sides of the camera as well as his share of clunkers. This one’s fades to the latter end of his spectrum and will probably disappoint both those looking for he-man of old or the more reflective and insightful talent he spend his long career becoming.
The Verdict? Interesting only for historians of the medium.
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