The Mule

Clint Eastwood
Release Year:
Length (mins):
Nick Schenk, Sam Dolnick (inspired by the New York Times Magazine Article "The Sinaloa Cartel's 90-Year Old Drug Mule" by
Clint Eastwood, Patrick L. Reyes, Cesar De León.
Screening Date:
  • 21 Apr 2020
  • Categories:
    Crime, Drama, Thriller

    A 90 year old veteran responds to his money troubles by smuggling $3M worth of cocaine for a Mexican drug cartel. A return to the GFS screen by Clint Eastwood who directs and stars.

    Film Notes

    The Mule review – crime in the slow lane.

    Clint Eastwood plays a drug mule for a Mexican cartel in a watchable but plodding film.

    You could argue that The Mule, the latest film from Clint Eastwood, is a perfect match of directing style and material. Ninety-year-old Earl Stone (Eastwood, in his first lead role since Gran Torino) has spent a lifetime driving across America, and has not accrued so much as a single speeding ticket. He’s a safe pair of hands on the wheel. So safe that the Mexican cartel that employs him as a drugs mule is willing to overlook his age and his unscheduled detours. Eastwood’s approach to the material is similarly solid and leisurely. The film, which is based on a true story, chugs along like a Sunday driver taking the scenic route. It’s perfectly watchable but a film with this puttering pace is never going to get the blood racing.

    Earl is a man who in trying to correct his past mistakes makes other, far bigger ones. He chose his work as a horticulturist over his wife and children. In a neat irony, he specialised in day lilies, the most ephemeral of flowers, while assuming that his untended family was permanent. He’s a man out of his time, bamboozled by technology and prone to inadvertent racism. And while Eastwood is more self-aware, there’s a sense that, in his approach to sexual politics at least, he too is a man who is rather detached from contemporary mores.

    Wendy Ide, The Observer, 27th January 2019.

    The minor-key Clint Eastwood drama The Mule presents all that’s comforting and limiting about the 88-year-old director’s classical storytelling approach. Inspired by the true story of a nonagenarian who became a drug mule for a dangerous cartel, the film relies on Eastwood’s weathered, easy-going charm as the titular driver desperate for money — even if it means risking imprisonment or worse.

    Eastwood is critical of his protagonist, undercutting our sympathy with an acknowledgement of Earl’s selfishness

    As with his other recent movies, the Oscar-winner favours sentimentality over subtlety, and yet The Mule resonates because of its straightforward look at America’s crooked War on Drugs, as well as its portrait of a flawed, aging man running out of options and second chances.

    The Mule represents Eastwood’s first starring role since 2012’s Trouble With The Curve ($49m worldwide) and the first time he’s toplined one of his own features since 2008’s Gran Torino ($270m). Fans will be intrigued when the film opens December 14 in the US and January 25 in the UK, but The Mule’s slow-burn, melancholy narrative may keep this Warner Bros. release from being a major commercial player.

    Eastwood plays Earl Stone, a Midwestern horticulturalist who is so devoted to his flowers that he’s neglected and alienated most of his family, including his ex-wife Mary (Dianne Wiest). But with his business failing, and foreclosure looming, Earl receives an unexpected proposition: How would he feel about driving cross-country to drop off packages in duffel bags? He’ll receive substantial sums for his efforts, but he has to obey his employers’ orders to the letter — and he can never look in the bags.

    It becomes quickly obvious that Earl has been hired to be a drug mule, and one of The Mule’s more interesting aspects is that this elderly man doesn’t really question the legality of this work. From Earl’s perspective, bills need to be paid, a granddaughter’s wedding needs to be financed, and failing community institutions could use the financial help — as far as he’s concerned, he’s participating in a victimless crime.

    That’s not the perspective shared by Colin Bates (Bradley Cooper), an ambitious Chicago DEA agent trying to crack down on this cartel —  if only he can figure out who’s transporting their drugs. The Mule milks the irony of the cartel hiring an older white man for this job: Bates and his partner (Michael Peña) are so busy looking for young Mexicans that they never suspect that this grizzled grandpa is their man. Nick Schenk’s screenplay, based on an article by New York Times journalist Sam Dolnick, gives these men’s investigation a calm procedural pace, but it’s also clear-eyed about its inherent racism.

    Eastwood hasn’t stepped in front of the camera much this century, and when he does he tends to play last-of-a-dying-breed men who are more virtuous than their younger cohorts. Such self-aggrandizement can be tiresome — especially in Gran Torino, where the character’s xenophobia was treated as adorable — but in The Mule, Eastwood is more critical of his protagonist, undercutting our sympathy with an acknowledgement of Earl’s selfishness.

    The movie also demonstrates how Earl’s white privilege allows him to navigate around law enforcement in ways that his Mexican counterparts cannot. There’s an unspoken bitter juxtaposition coursing through the narrative: Earl has fouled up his excellent life through his own foolishness, while the lower-working-class cartel underlings around him have never had the opportunities he’s thoughtlessly wasted.

    To be sure, neither Earl’s story nor the investigation to ensnare him is particularly riveting. But the narrative’s unhurried confidence, plus the novelty of Earl’s immersion in this unfamiliar world, keeps The Mule moving along. (And the supporting performances, including from Andy Garcia as a drug kingpin, have a modest authority to them, even when the roles are underwritten.)

    As he gets close to 90 himself, Eastwood views Earl as an almost tragic everyman who no longer recognizes his place in the modern world. Retaining the wry sense of humour and minimalist acting style that have endured over the past 60 years, Eastwood carries the film’s themes gracefully enough — particularly the notion of an aged man coming to the end of the proverbial road. And while this defiantly unflashy film may similarly feel out of step, long on mawkishness and short on dynamic, arresting moments, the purity of its gently mournful tone stays with you. 

    TIM GRIERSON, Screen Daily, 12th December 2018.

    What you thought about The Mule

    Film Responses

    Excellent Good Average Poor Very Poor
    5 (33%) 9 (60%) 1 (7%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%)
    Total Number of Responses: 15
    Film Score (0-5): 4.27

    Collated Response Comments

    The streaming is still going well with 131 members logging in to see The Mule. I do wish there was a way to identify how many are actually watching. I am pretty sure, in many instances there is more than one per household!!! If you look at the front page of the website we may have to make changes to our two final films. Keep checking in to see what we will be scheduling.

    I have to start with this review (see my response in yellow below) because while I am aware that you will be looking at the background when I am talking, I have been doing these from my study and have not done a lot to change what can be seen on screen. I will try to be a little more inventive for the last introduction. Not sure what the film will be yet. I am recording these intros on my iPhone so limited in where I can be in the house and still record coherently.

    “First of all I would like to say that this was our most successful streaming so far. No hitches at all and no need to resort to the Escape button. We also enjoy Michael's introduction which is strangely soothing in the current crisis and an antidote to the Government Briefings. As with many current TV presentations from the presenter's home we could not help scanning the bookshelves behind and noted the Marlon Brando poster from the Godfather. There also seemed to be a bust of Harold Wilson on the top shelf but perhaps that was a result of my rather myopic eyesight and I have done someone a great injustice. (No it is not Harold Wilson!!! It is the front of a box set of three DATA episodes from Star Trek. Still in their original plastic wrapper…a collector’s item. On the shelf below is a box set collection of Star Trek films all in Widescreen. The only problem is that they are all on VHS and I do not have a player anymore) MO’S. We enjoyed The Mule very much. After the requirement to use our brains for Primer this film just bowled along quietly - pleasant hours spent driving the highways of America (where was that strange white moonscape?), not too much gory violence despite the nature of the plot and only limited schmaltz for the family relationships. The horticultural element was particularly pertinent at this time when we are all feverishly growing vegetables, tidying gardens and becoming experts in types of plants.

    When Clint Eastwood is mentioned I usually think immediately of a monosyllabic individual with gimlet eyes shielded from the sun, spitting into the dust to add emphasis to his few words as depicted in the Spaghetti Western movies. This, however, was an older, gentler Clint, slightly bent over but he still had a sardonic turn of phrase when the need arose and the confidence to stand his ground against the members of the cartel who swiftly warmed to his eccentricities.

    Each time he did a run your heart was in your mouth thinking something was bound to go wrong. In the early runs I thought he had found the perfect part time job for retirement - not too onerous if you obeyed the rules, didn't ask questions and certainly didn't investigate what you were carrying. I felt he hadn't given his situation sufficient thought when he changed his battered old inconspicuous van for a more sleek model. He was also committing the cardinal sin of criminals who ultimately get caught by splashing the cash and leading people to question that this largesse could not be coming from the promotion of new lily cultivars. I reckon if he had kept his old van, eeked his cash out very gradually and not got curious (like the proverbial) cat, he could probably have kept the whole thing going for the rest of his life and maybe opened an upmarket garden centre.

    I am not sure that the return to his family when his ex-wife was dying was entirely credible given his reported behaviour over the years but I suppose it sewed up the loose ends quite nicely. His wise advice to both the minder from the cartel and the Federal agent were handled well and perhaps if the minder had taken his advice they could have set up a nice little organisation on their own coupled with the guys from the garage. He might have even got the minder interested in horticulture as a sideline - perhaps poppies to start with! All in all a very pleasant evening's viewing”.

    “Entertaining enough but full of clichés. The bad guys were not nearly bad enough. The film leaned towards sentimentality and had unnecessary scenes (humiliation of the bully, the poolside party)”.

    “Long time since I've seen a Clint Eastwood film and I enjoyed this one. He played old and naïve very convincingly. It was however very similar to The Old Man and the Gun from earlier in the season!”

    “Fabulous film with Eastwood totally in control and playing his usual laid-back character despite the ugly and threatening narco-gang involvement. His relationship with his family was well written and performed by all of them”.

    “There's an interesting comparison here with Robert Redford's 'Old man and the gun' from earlier in the season. Redford clearly references his cinematic past in what now looks like a slightly smug, self-regarding manner. Clint less so though you could argue that the driven, 'My way or the highway' outlook is very much Harry Callahan or further back the hothead Rowdy Yates, and Earl is, in his twilight years, paying the price for his blinkered selfishness. The tone is uneven, possibly deliberately, as Earl is a gentle and casual racist and sexist untroubled by the damage his drug smuggling must be doing. He achieves redemption at the last by acknowledging his guilt but the morality of the story remains somewhat queasily uncertain for me. Clint however remains a star turn though the parts for the other big name actors look cruelly under-written”.

    “Thought that all the pieces could be in place for a gripping grown-up drama. Yet its modesty belied some striking themes: forgiveness, regret, inevitable mortality with the family being all important, despite the shortcomings of Earl Stone. This decision to commit to family seriously risks his personal gratification and well-being, but also a hard edged take on limits of the American dream, which permits alleged freedom yet only if you follow the rules. Really enjoyed how Eastwood used Earl's age and temperament. Seeming out of touch, blinkered, naïve, he fumbles, embarrassed or unembarrassed, getting himself into uneasy situations from which the social infirmities of age ultimately get him excused. But Earl knows exactly what he's doing; he's a rogue a master manipulator whose curiosity seems to liberate him. Earl takes the money, of course. He loves being flush, respected, at the wheel. We don't always know where Eastwood's sympathies lie, either. Eastwood has few expressions, nearly all riveting, He did remind me of Sergio Leone's Man with No Name”.

     “Most enjoyable, I love the slow paced, laid back Clint Eastwood, and the vivid depiction of the brutal drug cartel”.

    “Clint Eastwood is so good to watch and this was no exception. Entertaining movie (and quite amusing in places), although plot a little simplistic and cliched in parts - but maybe it did happen like that? Thanks GFS”.

    “A quietly entertaining film. As Eastwood demonstrated with Unforgiven and Gran Torino, he is very good at picking age-appropriate roles for himself, and imbuing them with a self-aware mix of acting and derived image. Somewhat stretching credibility at times (e.g. how he was able to go off-grid with both the law and the cartel tracking him, and in particular the rapid forgiveness of his wife and daughter), but a good story regardless, and with good support. (Alison Eastwood seems to have spent her life playing his daughter in his films - but perhaps it's just because I remember the excellent Tightrope...?)

    Thanks again for the streaming option!”

    “Good to see Clint Eastwood - still daring but more mellow in old age”.

    “Clint Eastwood always manages to just tell a good story. Sat back and simply enjoyed going along for the ride!”

    “I thoroughly enjoyed watching the film didn’t miss any part of it this week an excellent film,  I could watch it more than once  just to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Clint Eastwood could be 90 next month”.

    “Perhaps the film we have enjoyed the most recently. A bit like Breaking Bad without the violence. Very well acted with a good story line. We enjoyed that everyone got on so well with him, drug smugglers, police investigators and even his family at the end, despite what he was carrying in the back of his van! Plus he was able to grow his beloved flowers even in prison. Just the feel-good film required at this grim time”.



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