As the title suggests, Clint Eastwood’s The Mule stubbornly demands our attention toward the end of the actor/director’s career. It’s not that there’s no reason for the movie to have been made – the true story of Leo Sharp, a 90 year-old geriatric WWII vet become accidental drug mule, was begging to become a feature – but the film feels rushed no matter how experienced the hands crafting it.
Clint Eastwood (Gran Torino, Million Dollar Baby,) stars as the elderly man, now Earl Stone, and directs himself competently in another piece of American cinema designed to give you the feels. Whether you fall prey to the tropes that are slung around may depend on how you view Eastwood himself. He is in fine fighting form for this film, in which despite the drug cartel/DEA setup, he plays his least violent character. As if to prove his manhood is still top notch, he gives himself two threesome sex scenes with much younger women.
Writer Nick Schenk (Gran Torino, Narcos,) has given everyone just enough to work with that the movie is either secretly genius, or borderline lazy in its meandering pace. As an action movie it lacks punch, and as a character piece it lacks heart. The two elements work frustratingly against each other, while staying playful enough to be likeable.
Bradley Cooper (American Sniper, A Star is Born,) plays the role of DEA agent Colin Bates. While it isn’t essential to have such a big name for such a minor role, it’s nice to see the chemistry between Bates and Stone as they come into conflict just trying to do their respective jobs.
Andy Garcia (Ocean’s 11, The Godfather part III,) seems to be having the time of his life as drug lord Laton. He doesn’t seem to care what direction the film is headed, as long as Laton is staying true to his own motives, and generally being a badass.
Alison Eastwood (Space Cowboys, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,) who is Clint Eastwood’s daughter in real life, also plays his daughter in this film. She lends her charm and beauty to make something memorable out of a minor part.
Clint Eastwood’s casting of his own daughter may serve as an allegory for the true-life story of how demanding a life devoted to the film industry can be, and how it’s all too easy to accidentally neglect your family by working too hard. This is played up in a conversation between Earl Stone and Colin Bates as they try to figure out why they have chosen to work so hard and abandon their families for so little recognition.
Ultimately, if Eastwood was looking to go out with a bang, The Mule is not it. But it has plenty of action, humor, and enough of a message to make it a palatable snack while we wait for his final masterpiece. Those sensitive to consistent casual prejudice will find plenty to dislike.
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