The Mule – Film Review by Frank L.
Director: Clint Eastwood
Writers: Sam Dolnick (inspired by the New York Times Magazine Article “The Sinaloa Cartel’s 90-Year Old Drug Mule” by), Nick Schenk
Stars: Bradley Cooper, Clint Eastwood, Manny Montana
Clint Eastwood who is 88 years old plays Earl Stone, who in real life was known as Leo Sharp. He became a drug mule in his eighties, in order to solve his dire financial situation. The film begins with Stone, who is a charming but feckless market gardener of lilies, attending a convention of lily growers. He is so obsessive about his lily growing and inept in maintaining his family relationships that he fails to attend the second wedding of his daughter Iris (Alison Eastwood). He is already divorced from the mother Mary (Diane Wiest). The film then fast forwards twelve years when Earl’s financial incompetence is coming home to roost. His plight is spotted by a guy from a Mexican drug cartel who suggests he does some driving which seems to him to be an ideal thing to be doing. Initially, he was unaware of the purpose but his naivety is soon dispelled. Of course given his age, he is unlikely to attract suspicion. And so it proves, but law enforcement has a new energetic officer Colin Bates (Bradley Cooper) who starts looking very closely at the supply trail of drugs into Chicago. As Stone makes his deliveries Bates’ thoroughness starts to yield information. In addition Sharp is a maverick and following detailed instructions is not one of his strengths.
One of the most delightful aspects of the film is Eastwood driving in his old, bashed, pick-up truck along the highways. Even more delightful is when he is in his more upmarket truck, bought with the proceeds of his first deliveries, complete with a sound system, when he sings along with his favourite tracks. In these scenes Eastwood is in his element and is at his magical best. He represents a man entirely at one with his work and his life. These scenes stand in stark contrast with the fraught encounters with his ex-wife and his estranged daughter even though his granddaughter is enchanted by him. They are all mystified by his new found wealth but nobody enquires too much. And so it gambols on.
The entire film centres on Stone and therefore Eastwood. It is a performance well within his compass but to be able to pull it off with such grace at the age of 88 is a great achievement. He is an old man estranged for the most part from his family but they remain family so he never can discard them. It is this bond that gives the film its feel good tone even if the underlying theme is the horror world of illegal drug supply. It’s a film that easily entertains.