At the age of 88, four-time Oscar winner Clint Eastwood makes his on screen return in crime drama The Mule, inspired by a New York Times article.
Replacing the .44 Magnum (“the most powerful handgun in the world…”) with gardening scissors, Eastwood’s big return to the screen is as the Korean War veteran and very successful horticulturist, Earl Stone. Opening in 2005, Earl puts his awards and successes before his family and daughter Iris (Clint’s daughter Alison Eastwood), before fast-forwarding a decade to reveal Earl’s life and business is ruined, and all but his granddaughter Ginny (Taissa Farmiga) estranged.
He eventually has the (mis)fortune of being offered “work” by his Ginny’s friend unwittingly transporting kilos of drugs. Simultaneously, DEA Agent Colin Bates (Bradley Cooper) is in a new town with a new partner (Michael Pena’s Trevino) and hungry to deliver big cartel names and destined to eventually meet with Earl.
Crimes in association with Schedule II (US) / Class A (UK) drugs would normally connote a serious tone within a film, especially with Eastwood at the wheel. But literally at the wheel, the tone throughout The Mule is so calming and smooth that one simply forgets that old man Earl is smuggling drugs in the back of his pickup for a damn cartel led by Laton (Andy Garcia, Fernando from Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again). There is a growing intensity as arrests are made and conflicts arise within the cartel, be it in Mexico or a seedy tyre shop.
Eastwood has successfully managed to act and direct his best film in 15 years. At first, he appears to be worrying frail – something no fan would wish to see – but as The Mule progresses, he far from resembles a generic 90-year-old. His performance on any other day would be nominated for the Oscar, but sadly not today. Additionally, as a masterful director, he possesses the talent and skill to perfectly capture himself on screen. There are moments, especially intense ones, where Eastwood manages to capture the right facial shot to suit to moment.
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Bradley Cooper, who has been nominated for the Oscar (albeit for A Star is Born) is tremendous as the ambitious DEA Agent. There is an overwhelming feeling that much more, so much more, could and should have been made of his character and of the partnership between Bates and Pena’s Trevino, although the subtleness is a fun watch. Laurence Fishburne as Bates’ superior, and Dianne Wiest as Clint Eastwood’s ex-wife, provide entertaining supporting roles; complete opposites of course, but impactful in their respective ways.
Ultimately, The Mule’s definitive status is most likely to be of a brief comeback and final goodbye to the film career of Clint Eastwood and a fun movie for the fans. After the disappointment of The 15:17 to Paris, it is only right that Eastwood redeems himself and goes out with a bang after a successful career in front of and behind the camera.