Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Dianne Weist, Taissa Farmiga, Andy Garcia, Alison Eastwood
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…part old man wish-fulfillment fantasy and part amiable cinematic victory lap.
When we first meet Earl Stone (Clint Eastwood), he is riding high on a wave of self-congratulation, having won a coveted horticulture award, and is charming his friends and co-workers. In fact, he’s so busy being boozy and gregarious he misses his own daughter’s wedding.
A decade and change later, Earl’s fortunes have turned, with his flower business becoming the latest victim of that gawdang internet. At age 90, Earl finds that he wants to make amends with his family but lacks the funds to help with the wedding of his granddaughter, Ginny (Taissa Farmiga). As luck would have it, a rather sketchy gentleman approaches Earl and makes an offer: a fat chunk of cash to simply drive a package across state lines, what could be easier? Earl accepts and (somewhat) unwittingly becomes a 90-year-old drug mule.
The Mule is Clint Eastwood’s 38th film as a director (the acting count is closer to 70) and it’s a powerfully weird bit of business. Based on the true story of Leo Sharp, Clint plays Earl as an amiable chap out of synch with the rest of the world but perfectly content to go along with the changes. He is mildly amused by a bikie gang of lesbians, bourgeois African Americans, useless young people and cartel affiliated Mexicans, but treats everyone with a warmth and tenderness that makes him a likable, albeit deeply flawed character. Clint’s performance genuinely embraces his true age of 88, and he looks doddering and frail, as he never has before.
The support cast are worthy, with Bradley Cooper and Dianne Wiest offering strong showings as an ambitious DEA agent and Earl’s ex-wife, respectively. However, this is unmistakably Clint’s show, and The Mule plays out as part old man wish-fulfillment fantasy and part amiable cinematic victory lap. Tonally, it’s all over the shop, with comedy and tragedy squeezed occasionally uncomfortably close, but there’s a charm to the piece and some wry, knowing observations about the current state of America that ring true and offer surprising nuance.
Ultimately, The Mule isn’t the near masterpiece of a film like Eastwood’s Gran Torino (2008) but it is an engaging, often shambolic and pleasingly odd journey that will likely win you over with its kooky charms.