The Mule

 

starstarstar

 


Clint Eastwood is back on form until the material lets him down.

    

Mule, The

Clint Eastwood at the wheel

 

For well over half its length this new work by the 88-year-old Clint Eastwood comes across an accomplished piece with which to pass the time. Although Eastwood remains a very proficient director, there is nothing about The Mule to put it anywhere near the best of his late works (Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima being the crowning achievements) but nevertheless it looks set to be an engaging piece not so far removed from the recent Robert Redford vehicle The Old Man & The Gun. Both films are star vehicles (Eastwood is lead actor in addition to directing) and both draw on real-life elderly criminals whose activities are presented in a relatively light tone. Sam Dolnick’s screenplay here adapts the facts freely in telling a story based on Leo Sharp who, to cover debts when his flower business folded, made many trips for a Mexican cartel until he was caught by agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration. Earl Stone - as he is renamed here - may be portrayed as a man who has failed his family but, even so, there is no doubt that the audience is meant to root for him and not for the DEA. Their agents are played by Bradley Cooper, Michael Peña and Laurence Fishburne but as written none of these roles amounts to much - and that becomes even more apparent, not less so, when one scene set up for Cooper to share with Eastwood brings to mind the classic meeting of De Niro and Pacino in Heat.

 

Eastwood, ironically playing slightly older than his actual age, is on assured form and The Mule only requires you to ignore any questions about the morality of drug running to come over as a pleasing entertainment. Doubts only arise when, well into the film, the cartel boss (Andy Garcia) invites Earl Stone to a party where scantily clad girls are on hand: the way in which director Eastwood lets the camera ogle their bodies will understandably aggravate many, feminists especially. But the real problem with The Mule lies in its last quarter. Diverging totally from Leo Sharp’s story the film goes for fiction as our hero, given a neglected ex-wife (Dianne Wiest), suddenly faces up to all his failings as a husband and father and indulges in a deathbed reconciliation. The moral message delivered here fits not at all with the need until then to forget moral issues and, even if one welcomes Stone’s change of heart, the fact is that these late scenes emerge with all the sentimentality associated with weepies. Those who like this kind of thing may well embrace the film as a whole, but others will be much happier with The Mule before it turns moralistic. Either way the film proves that old age has in no way diminished Eastwood’s screen presence or his technical judgments as a director.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Peña, Dianne Wiest, Ignacio Serricchio, Andy Garcia, Taissa Farmiga, Alison Eastwood, Richard Herd, Robert LaSardo, Manny Montana, Noel G., Clifton Collins Jnr, Eugene Cordero, Loren Dean, Victor Rasuk, Mollie Busta.

 

Dir Clint Eastwood, Pro Clint Eastwood, Tim Moore, Kristina Rivera, Jessica Meier, Dan Friedkin and Bradley Thomas, Screenplay Nick Schenk, inspired by the article in The New York Times magazine The Sinaloa Cartel’s 90-Year Old Drug Mule by Sam Dolnick, Ph Yves Bélanger, Pro Des Kevin Ishioka, Ed Joel Cox, Music Arturo Sandoval, Costumes Deborah Hopper.

 

Warner Bros./Imperative Entertainment/Bron Creative/Malpaso Productions/BRON Studio-Warner Bros.
116 mins. USA. 2018. Rel: 25 January 2019. Cert. 15.