Whenever Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood returns to cinemas audiences are always in for a treat and his latest project, The Mule, is an extremely fascinating story of one man’s final outlaw journey.
Earl Stone (Eastwood), a man in his 80s who is broke, alone and facing foreclosure on his business when he is offered a job that simply requires him to drive. Easy enough, but, unbeknownst to Earl, he’s just signed on as a drug courier for the cartel. He does well – so well, in fact, that his cargo increases exponentially, and Earl is assigned a handler. But he isn’t the only one keeping tabs on Earl; the mysterious new drug mule has also hit the radar of a hard-charging DEA agent (Bradley Cooper). And even as his money problems become a thing of the past, Earl’s past mistakes start to weigh heavily on him, and it’s uncertain if he’ll have time to right those wrongs before law enforcement, or the cartel’s enforcers, catch up to him.
When it comes to cinema there is no set formula for Eastwood and the director is absolutely fearless in his desire to tell any story that interests him. And that’s exactly where The Mule comes in. Based on a remarkable true-crime story of a ninety-year-old man who became a drug mule for the Sinola Cartel to fund his retirement, The Mule is a film that instantly grabs you with its concept and Eastwood really runs with it here.
As a character, Earl Stone is a whole new type of outlaw for Eastwood to play and he really leaves an impression on the audience. Fun loving, rambunctious and a total dude, Earl is a man who is the absolute life of the party, but whose life of constant running has cost him everything that matters in life. Out of desperation, he’s forced back into the run, with the rewards arriving fast and his gregarious personality winning over the hardened cartel soldiers he ends up working for. But while success comes easy in the drug game it’s then that Earl’s conscience really begins to weigh on him as his outlaw status rises and the balance between his good and bad actions begins to tear at his soul.
If I were to describe The Mule in any form I would definitely label it as a ‘sad country song’. While it’s a tale of a reluctant outlaw character who makes one last big gamble there’s a tremendous level of sadness to Earl’s plight and his desire to do the right thing before it all ends. As a portrait of a man who is on his last legs and running out of options, while maintaining a desperate desire to hold onto the past, the metaphorical symbolism of Earl’s life and contemporary American society is definitely not lost on the audience.
While I would class The Mule as a slow burn type of a movie its tension does wrap up quickly and then suddenly moves into breakneck speed as the narrative reaches a fever pitch. As a filmmaker, Eastwood is no stranger to building tension and he really keeps his audience on the edge of their seats as Earl’s easy-going nature begins to wear thin on a dangerously evolving cartel. As Earl’s runs ramp up the risks and rewards grow steeper and things get tense very quickly. Eastwood really pushes his narrative to the extreme and you really grip your seat as it reaches its tipping point and it becomes all too clear that no man can run forever.
As expected, a figure like Eastwood certainly draws a great supporting cast to his projects and here he re-teams with his American Sniper collaborator Bradley Cooper for a great on-screen game of cat and mouse. As hotshot DEA agent Colin Bates, Cooper is slick, smart and clever in his dealings with this dangerous world and he can almost sense at what is at play here. His interactions with Eastwood’s Earl have plenty of weight to them and there’s a deep sense of understanding that resonates between the two men. While Cooper is rapidly coming into his own as a filmmaker and could be considered to be the Eastwood-esque figure of his generation, his presence within The Mule leads to a great performance and helps to elevate the performance of Eastwood and the story that the great director is telling.
No outlaw can run forever and with The Mule Clint Eastwood delivers a moving portrait of one man’s final ride. With its remarkable narrative and a committed and introspective performance from a Hollywood legend, The Mule is a film that demands to be watched and it’ll absolutely hold your attention from beginning to end.
Image: Roadshow Films