Broke, alone and facing foreclosure on his business, 90-year-old horticulturist Earl Stone takes a job as a drug courier for a Mexican cartel. His immediate success leads to easy money and a larger shipment that soon draws the attention of hard-charging DEA agent Colin Bates. When Earl's past mistakes start to weigh heavily on his conscience, he must decide whether to right those wrongs before law enforcement and cartel thugs catch up to him.
At the ripe old age of 88, Clint Eastwood is certainly getting on in years. However, both directing and starring, The Mule feels more like self-service than an attempt to provide something meaningful to the art of cinema. Based on a true story, the foundation of the film is already there, but The Mule comes across as incredibly clunky and lazily written.
The first few scenes aim to develop the backstory of our protagonist, Earl Stone, but it rushes through this so quickly that you don't get a chance to really take it in. It comes across more like a pleasant dream that Earl's character would be likely to have rather than something that actually happened. This theme of events and relationships feeling inauthentic carries on throughout the film. Earl's relationship with his family is strained but doesn't feel genuine, and as a result, any attempts at redeeming himself in his families eyes is doomed to fall flat. It just feels poorly acted.
That being said, with the exception of Dianne Wiest who really phoned in her performance, the supporting cast of minor characters were good. The local members of the Mexican Cartel are initially expectedly hostile but warm up to Earl; it feels earned and was brilliantly done. A family that had a flat tire, portrayed genuine emotion and I could empathise with them. But every big name in the cast list was either one-dimensional and flat or didn't have enough screentime to add anything significant to the film. Laurence Fishburne's character could have been played by anyone or could have been taken out of the story altogether, with no effect on the plot. Perhaps it is a consequence of Clint Eastwood directing and starring at the same time, as it feels like the other cast members lacked any direction or motivation.
The pacing in The Mule is also inconsistent, rushing through the initial scenes, and then making random time jumps to the point that you have no idea how much time has passed. Has it been a day? A month? A year? Nobody knows.
The whole film relies on the performance of Clint Eastwood, yet his character has no real story arc. There is an overarching theme about putting the family first, which does work okay, but there are certain parts of his character that are less than admirable but never change. Whether it be the use of derogatory terms towards minorities, or his constant need to dance and have physical contact with every young woman he sees. These are attributes that are added to his character to remind the viewer that Earl Stone is old. It's unnecessary. We can see that he is old.
There were some good aspects to the character of Earl Stone, mainly what I would call his "I don't give a f**k" attitude. The man who is dealing with Mexican cartels and trying to evade the cartel is doing so without a care in the world. It could come across as either a battle-hardened veteran or a man who has given up on life. But what it does is add comedy to the film. There is the odd line thrown in here and there that gets a chuckle from the audience, but it does negate a lot of the tension too.
If you have watched the trailer you no doubt would expect the film to be a tense thriller, but the trailer is edited that way purposefully. The film itself never really hits the same level of suspense. As such, there is no real sense of satisfaction at the end of the film. It feels like nothing was really accomplished. Storylines remain open and unexplained at the end of the movie, so nothing feels earned.
It's not a bad movie by any means. It's clunky but entertaining. It's poorly written and paced, but it has some reasonable suspense. It lacks the emotional depth and power to make it a great film. With more character development, more screentime for the supporting cast, and a more coherent timeline, this could have been a great film. Instead, it is simply okay.
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