I generally like Clint Eastwood’s movies. True, The 15:17 to Paris was a monumental disaster of a movie, but overall, I really dig it when Eastwood directs something new. And here we have The Mule where he makes a rare appearance in front of the camera as well. It couldn’t be any worse than 15;17 to Paris, right?
Actually, this one a sort of strange movie.
Eastwood stars as Earl Stone, a nearly 90 year old man who spent most of his life working as a horticulturalist to the point where he missed numerous events with his (ex)wife Mary (Dianne Weist) and adult daughter (Eastwood’s own daughter Alison). His granddaughter Ginny (Taissa Farminga) alone still believes in him. However, Earl isn’t good with technology and loses his business to online competition. Broke and with nowhere else to go, plus having promised to pay something for Ginny’s wedding, he takes a job that he doesn’t immediately realize is to curry drugs between states due to his safe and cautious driving record. While all this is going on, a DEA taskforce led in the field by Bradley Cooper is after both the cartel Earl works for and Earl himself even as higher ups in the cartel gradually come to think that Earl’s folksy and old fashioned ways aren’t working for them anymore.
So, here’s the thing: the acting in this movie is quite good, particularly from Eastwood playing a fairly cheerful old man. Weist herself acquits herself fine as well, and Cooper and his DEA co-workers are OK. On the other hand, the script for this movie is outright weird if not odd in places. The opening few scenes, establishing who Earl is and what his family problems are, may be some of the clumsiest exposition I’ve seen in years. Earl himself doesn’t seem to realize what exactly he’s transporting right away, and that sure seems to be pretty hard to understand given the heavily armed guards standing around when he first shows up. And during one cartel party scene, it sure does seem to become a Fast and Furious movie given the many close-ups of butts on thong-clad young women wiggling around.
But despite this, I found the movie rather charming. That comes right down to Eastwood’s portrayal of Earl. It’s hard to see why his family hates him so much (does being a horticulturalist really take up that much of a person’s time?), and despite the occasional racist comment that is probably meant to emphasize Earl’s age, he still seems like a friendly, cheerful guy who everyone aside from a few of the cartel types are eventually won over by, and given Eastwood’s onscreen charisma, it is easy to see why. Give the script another revision or two and you might have a movie that doesn’t have to coast on the cast’s charming performances. I do like me some Eastwood, so keep that in mind with the following grade: 8 out of 10 skeet shooting surprises.
Yeah, if you aren’t a fan of the director and star, you probably won’t enjoy this one as much as I did.