IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 118 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Earl Stone is a 90-year-old horticulturist and Korean War veteran who’s paid little attention to his family, even neglecting to attend the wedding of his daughter Iris who won’t speak to him. Reluctantly closing shop due to competition from internet businesses, he’s therefore facing financial ruin. Then he’s approached by a man who tells him that he can earn some money by driving, and and therefore he becomes a “mule”, transporting cocaine through Illinois for a Mexican drug cartel, and facing little suspicion due to his age, race, spotless criminal history and strict adherence to driving laws. But DEA Agent Bates is desperate to make a bust….
Even though I go to the cinema very often, I don’t tend to do lots of random cinemas reviews these days as I’m usually kept busy by screeners, but for me another film not just directed by but also starring the 90-year old icon that is Clint Eastwood is certainly worth more than a mention even if it’s not actually that good. While to lifelong fans like me there’s still a thrill to be had from seeing him upon the screen, now the sprightliest 90-year old you may ever see and one who hasn’t lost any of his screen presence, Gran Turino was such a great signing off [okay, he also starred in Trouble With The Curve soon after but Gran Turino was really his farewell as a screen star] that it makes The Mule seem somewhat redundant. This is especially because the real-life character he plays is turned into a very similar old person to Walt Kowalski, though his poor attitude to his family is interesting as it can possibly be seen as a comment on Mr Eastwood himself who’s had a rather feckless attitude to such things. This helps to give the emotional heart of the film some depth, with the subjects of regret and the inability to turn back time hitting home quite hard, and the viewer not really sure whether to be happy or not when Earl starts living the good life due to all the money he’s making, even when he’s helping out friends. Eastwood’s final scenes with Dianne Wiest, playing his ex-wife, move greatly.
But for much of its time The Mule is content to be a rather thin and thinly spread out crime drama that has way too much footage of its hero driving his dodgy cargo about, and it’s hard to believe that he agrees to doing this straight away even when surrounded by folk with bloody machine guns, and is later surprised when he finds cocaine in his truck. Eastwood is just massaging his ego when he has Earl have not just one but two threesomes, and, while Bradley Cooper and Michael Pena are good together as the DEA agents on his trail, an attempt to evoke the classic Robert De Niro/Al Pacino meeting scene from Heat falls flat on its face. Moments of comedy feel shoehorned in, and Eastwood as director seems disinterested in the proceedings even though this lacks most of the sloppiness of his previous endeavour The 15:17 to Paris. Characterisations are mainly cardboard, though the majority of the Mexican gangsters are portrayed as ‘normal’ people employed in the drug trade purely because crime pays. In fact there’s a balanced racial element here and there, though no doubt those who will only be happy if every single non-white person in a film was portrayed as a lovely person are whinging about racism that doesn’t exist yet again. It’s hard for me not to warm to a film that appears to play little heed to current fashions and is content to just amble along in a relaxed way, and it’s hard for me not to warm to a film that moans about the youth of today and in particular their dependence on phones. But it’s also hard for me not to admit that Clint should probably now call it a day. After all, he has nothing left to prove.