Loosely inspired by the true story of a 90-year-old veteran who became the Sinaloa cartel’s most successful drug mule, The Mule follows Earl Stone (Clint Eastwood) as he makes ends meet the naughty way when his horticultural business goes belly up. His record is clean, he’s never had a speeding ticket, and who in their right minds would suspect an affable old geezer of shifting guns and sizeable amounts of heroin for a Mexican drug cartel in his truck? His under-the-radar efforts play out like a road movie, with the DEA bustling about in the background, wondering why they can’t catch the cartel’s new MVP. It’s a serviceably entertaining effort that invites tonal comparisons with David Lowry’s upcoming – and superior – The Old Man And The Gun, in that both films feel like they could be fitting swansongs for their respective central stars. The Mule, however, feels insubstantial and lacks a convincing emotional core, regardless of Eastwood’s strong performance as a man who has neglected his family for work and seems to yearn for redemption in his own morally murky way. The film’s shortcomings mostly stem from Nick Schenk‘s script rather than Eastwood’s direction, thankfully confirming that last year’s monumental turkey The 15:17 To Paris was (hopefully) a one-time misfire. For instance, while the character’s unintentional racism can be understood as denoting a man out of time and out of his depth, the fact that the OAP drug-runner smugly engages in a threesome with two prostitutes during a cartel party just doesn’t work. It’s accumulative false notes like these that reveal an ultimately underwritten character and a bafflingly conventional screenplay considering the source material. This realisation is made all the more grievous when it becomes clear that the stellar supporting cast (Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Peña) are lumped with perfunctory parts that were clearly only accepted because Eastwood came a‘knocking.
The Mule | Directed by Clint Eastwood (US, 2019), with Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper. Starts January 31.
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