Sunday, December 23, 2018
Lately Clint Eastwood has been on a run of films detailing real-life American heroes such as SULLY and AMERICAN SNIPER. His new movie THE MULE is also based off of a real-life American story, but this time the narrative is much more complicated. THE MULE is reminiscent of MYSTIC RIVER and MILLION DOLLAR BABY.
In a welcome return to on-screen acting, Eastwood plays Earl Stone, a horticulturist from Illinois who is in his eighties. Despite a lifetime of hard work, Earl is broke, and he has almost no relationship with his immediate family. A chance encounter leads Earl to become a courier for some rather intimidating employers--he winds up being a very unlikely (and very successful) drug mule. For the first time in his life Earl is making some big-time money, and he believes he can use it to rectify the problems that he has, but he soon has to face the consequences of what he has involved himself in.
THE MULE is a perfect story for Eastwood's understated film making style. It's not a rip-roaring story about drug cartels, it's an adult drama featuring an imperfect working-class man who winds up in a situation where's he's way over his head. In his excellent performance as Earl Eastwood shows us that the man has been way over his head when it comes to life period. He's politically incorrect and plain-spoken, and despite his advanced age he still tries to act like a 30-year old player around the ladies. Earl can turn on the charm when he has to, and he has a regular-guy type of common sense which helps him out in certain times of trouble, but he can also be exasperating. Some may feel that Eastwood makes Earl too lovable, but I don't think so....he's portraying a type of American that still exists, no matter how many people today may look down on such folks. Eastwood mines a lot of humor from Earl's reactions to 21st Century life, but I know plenty of people who would react the same way.
THE MULE was written by Nick Schenk, who also wrote GRAN TORINO. The two movies share a few similarities, but the character that Eastwood played in GRAN TORINO would never become a drug mule. The very outlandishness of a 80-something very white guy being a drug courier is why it worked in real life, and it comes off very believably in this film. As usual Eastwood is surrounded by a top-flight cast: Bradley Cooper, Andy Garcia, Lawrence Fishburne, and Dianne Wiest (what notable movie actor wouldn't want to work with Clint Eastwood?).
It's nice to see a film that tells a story about ordinary people, and doesn't have CGI, over-the-top action scenes, or ear-splitting music and sound effects. In my opinion Eastwood's performance in THE MULE is one of the best of his career, and it would be nice if he got a Best Actor Oscar nomination (although in today's political climate, that's probably not going to happen). At the very least Eastwood should be commended for showing that an 88-year old man can produce, direct, and star in a film that stands up to anything being released in theaters lately.