The Mule movie director: Clint Eastwood
The Mule movie cast: Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Michael Pena, Laurence Fishburne, Dianne Wiest, Tiassa Farmiga, Andy Garcia
The Mule movie rating: 2.5 stars
Even a 90-year-old who proved to be one of the most successful mules ever for a big drug cartel — a real-life person on whom this film is loosely based — must give way to Clint Eastwood. In the hands of the wizened old man of Hollywood, with his set image of himself and how the world should be, that 90-year-old’s presumably exciting life takes a backseat to Eastwood’s crusty Earl Stone who has too much of a good time than he deserves. And too much of screen-time for this to be a good film.
Earl Stone is the sort of guy who misses his daughter’s wedding to attend a flower convention, where he is mobbed for growing an award-winner ‘day lily’ (he is a horticulturist, and employs a lot of what could be illegal Mexican immigrants). There is a running joke here about people mistaking Earl for Jimmy Stewart, and while Eastwood has praised the late actor for being able to portray both the everyman and angry characters, here the comparison is thrown about more as a conversation filler.
It’s 12 years later, and Earl is broke, just in time for his granddaughter’s wedding, for which he was supposed to pitch in (despite the fact that his daughter doesn’t talk to him). So Earl decides to cart drugs across states to Chicago for the cartel, batting none of his eyelids in that creased, leathery face of his. Even when he comes into all that cash — and the money is lucrative and makes him keep coming back — few doubts are raised.
Along the way, Earl eats at those all-American roadside places, listens to music in true Hollywood road-movies style, has frolicking twosomes with young nothings apart from other flings, and throws around racial remarks that we are meant to chuckle about. Law enforcement, whether bumbling cops who are unsuspecting of white 90-year-olds or DEA officials played by the hapless and wasted Cooper, Pena and Fisburne, make an impressive but largely unnecessary backdrop.
And then there are the Mexicans, by the dozen but indistinguishable. They are either lowly workers or drug runners, under-dressed and over-tattooed. Andy Garcia floats in and out as a Mexican druglord surrounded by women kitted out in tiny bikinis, all the better for Earl to ogle over.
Still, all Eastwood has to do is turn on that star power. If a role requires you to spend most of your time behind a wheel humming along to music, drumming your fingers, munching on food, and being taken seriously by everyone as you slam mobile phones and rue the Internet — you can’t do better than him. He comes into the role all his 88 years showing, in his balding hair, his stooped back, his creaking bones, his tiny steps, and his very-very-lined face. It may not be the 90-year-old man the film promised; but it is definitely a man nearing 90, helming a film.
That’s saying something.