The Movie Waffler New Release Review - THE MULE | The Movie Waffler

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New Release Review - THE MULE

the mule review
A 90-year-old becomes a drug mule for a Mexican cartel.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Clint Eastwood

Starring: Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Manny Montana, Taissa Farmiga, Alison Eastwood, Michael Peña, Andy Garcia, Laurence Fishburne, Clifton Collins Jr., Dianne Wiest

the mule poster


As a naive kid, I believed Clint Eastwood was the oldest man in the world when he made Unforgiven in 1992. A postmodern deconstruction of the western genre, that film seemed a summation of Eastwood's stellar career, and it felt like he was bowing out on a high. Cut to 27 years later and Eastwood has directed no less than 21 movies in the intervening years, with no signs of stopping at the ripe age of 88. As an actor however, Eastwood has largely called time on his career, with only three roles in the last decade. If The Mule represents his final turn in front of the camera, it means the icon will be going out with one of his finest ever performances.

the mule review


Based on the true story of Leo Sharp, an American WWII vet who found himself working for the infamous Sinaloa cartel while in his eighties, The Mule sees Eastwood play Earl Stone, a charismatic but narcissistic horticulturist who becomes homeless aged 90. Long estranged from his ex-wife, Mary (Dianne Wiest), and daughter, Iris (Eastwood's real life daughter Alison), Earl's only contact with his family is his teenage granddaughter, Ginny (Taissa Farmiga). While attending Ginny's wedding, and causing a scene with his ex, Earl gets chatting to a young Mexican man who tells him of a job opportunity that only involves "driving."



Desperate for cash, Earl follows up the lead and finds himself in a garage with three gun-wielding Mexican gang members. His job is to drive a package from Texas to Illinois, where he will be paid in cash. The drive goes off without a hitch, and Earl is surprised by the large wad of notes left in his truck as payment. After a few more runs, Earl has raised enough money to buy his home back from the bank, reopen his local Veterans' hall and purchase a brand spanking new truck. He still can't get his head around texting though.

the mule review


With the streets of Chicago suddenly flooded with cocaine, the DEA are desperate to discover the source, assigning two agents - Colin Bates (Bradley Cooper) and Trevino (Michael Peña) - to track down this effective new smuggler.




Eastwood might be the most famous Republican filmmaker, but the libertarian politics of his films don't always tow that party's line, arguing the case for such conservative bugbears as euthanasia (Million Dollar Baby), gay rights (J. Edgar), racial harmony (Invictus) and feminism (Sudden Impact). The Mule is a surprisingly damning condemnation of American prejudice, much harder on the racism of cops than Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman, which let the boys in blue considerably off the hook with its "few bad cops" message. Eastwood makes it clear that racism is inherent in American law enforcement, with even otherwise wholesome cops like Bates and Trevino lazily falling back on racial profiling in their quest to identify the mule. While staking out the motel Earl is staying in, they pick out a guest as a potential suspect for no other reason than being black, while Earl hobbles around in plain sight. Elsewhere, a hispanic man is pulled over for driving a truck that matches Earl's, imploring the police not to shoot him - "This is statistically the most dangerous five minutes of my life!" Stopping off for pulled pork with two Mexican handlers in tow, Earl uses his white privilege to defuse a tense situation when a xenophobic cop starts harassing the Mexicans for no reason. Every authority figure in The Mule is a racist, whether they're aware of it or not. And of course, being a 90-year-old white man, Earl isn't exactly the most progressive individual, though his bigotry comes from a place of institutional ignorance. Clint and Earl are from a generation that absorbed bigotry by osmosis. Today's generation are racists because they actively want to be.

the mule review


The Mule functions best as a well observed look at workplace dynamics. I've always believed there's no such thing as a bad job, only bad bosses. I've had jobs in the past that started out great, only to become tortuous when some new asshole took charge and sought to impose meaningless rules that created a bad atmosphere. That's the scenario Earl faces. At first everything goes swimmingly for the old man, as he gets along with his co-workers (there are some genuinely sweet interactions between Earl and the three low level gangsters he initially makes contact with) and is even invited to cartel boss Laton's (Andy Garcia) sprawling villa ("Who do you have to kill to get a place like this?") for a night romping with hookers young enough to be his granddaughter. But most importantly of all, Earl is trusted by his employers, allowed to do his job by his own system and rules. When Laton is ousted by an ambitious younger rival, Gustavo (Clifton Collins Jr), who forces Earl to play by a new set of rules that make his route predictable, it makes it easier for the DEA to track him down, and for the first time Earl feels the net closing around him.

After a few recent duds, Eastwood has returned with both his most entertaining and most well observed movie since 2004's Million Dollar Baby. Don't make the mistake with Eastwood that The Mule's DEA antagonists make of writing off Earl for his advanced age; as a director, Eastwood proves here that he's as sharp as ever.

The Mule is in UK/ROI cinemas January 25th.


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