Clint Eastwood's The Mule is a bleak tale of redemption, anchored down by another unfiltered Clint Eastwood performance that's drenched in moral ambiguity. The Mule is a heart-wrenching drama that foreshadows Eastwood's prolific career.
Clint Eastwood‘s The Mule is the director/actor’s latest gut-punch of a film, layered with emotional complexity that makes for a hearty old-fashioned drama about a man and his mistakes. Eastwood, of course, sprinkles on his usual unfiltered social commentary, while the bulk of the script focuses on the journey, the casualties and the eventual outcome of living a big, selfish life.
Earl Stone (Clint Eastwood) is a 90 year-old horticulturist that cares more about his flowers and shiny awards than his actual family. He’s divorced, his family mostly hates him and he doesn’t really seem to mind, until he’s met with a late-life crisis that causes him to reassess the value of loved ones and take a deep hard look at time and how much it means to the human conscious.
It’s not long before Earl finds himself delivering drugs for the Mexican cartel, based on his perfect driving record and off the fact that he’s broke and needs some cash to help front part of his granddaughters wedding, who also happens to be the only family member that wants to interact with him.
Earl sees this opportunity originally, as a selfish act to continue to fuel his hard-headed ego, but it slowly warps into a reflection of one’s own legacy and worth. The more money he accumulates, the more time he seems to want to spend with his loved ones, almost like the whole “money can’t buy you happiness” saying starts hitting him over the head with a wrench, much like what the cartel would do to him if he doesn’t deliver.
The film wisely balances the self-fulfillment with self-righteousness as Earl learns the value of time and the importance of effort — effort not in direct correlation with pass or fail, but with trying or not trying.
At one point in the film, Eastwood’s character mentions how he has failed as a father, while his daughter says that he was simply a late-bloomer. This is poetic, because it obviously ties together Earl’s love for flowers and their own unique individuality, but also with the fact that it’s never too late to stop being a real father. His family never cared if he was the best father, but only that he was an actual father that actively wanted to be a part of their lives.
The Mule might be my personal favorite performance from Eastwood, a man mostly known for his bad-ass era of Western’s and “tough-guy” roles. I find Eastwood far more appealing when he embraces his emotional insecurities and gives audiences a glance at his more vulnerable side.
Eastwood’s path to redemption in the film and his character’s long-form apologizes could surely be compared to Eastwood’s career or personal aspects of life, but I’ve mostly considered Eastwood’s body of work to be an important and monumental part of film, if not entirely as perfect as some say.
As a director, Eastwood shoots The Mule pretty steady, focusing on his character’s family dynamics above all else, but occasionally giving us a look at Bradley Cooper‘s DEA Agent Colin Bates. Some might argue that the film doesn’t lend enough importance to Bates’ own personal growth throughout the film and while I can’t argue that the film doesn’t, I can say that Bates isn’t the focus of the film and is only a secondary character at best.
Yes, the film’s ark and cinematic passing of the torch involves both Eastwood and Cooper, but I’d argue that it’s more about Eastwood realizing that his time is up and that Cooper has more than earned his trust and honor over the years, working together on American Sniper and at one point, Cooper pitching A Star is Born to Eastwood to direct.
For some, The Mule is going to be minor-Eastwood, that relies more on drama and thematic storytelling than actual action or inventiveness. And that’s completely fine, because The Mule is structured in a way that’s predictable and safe — I wouldn’t describe it as slow, but I can see that complaint coming.
But to others, The Mule‘s conventional approach only solidifies the base of a film that Eastwood pours his heart and soul into. The performances are all top-notch, requiring a sense of humanity that rarely bothers to paint someone as “bad” or “good” — heck, even some of the drug smugglers that Eastwood’s character deals with begin to break their mold of tough-guy thugs as they attempt to help Earl learn how to text — The Mule is a film full of little moments that may appear to be minor, but only add to the likability of the film’s simplistic intentions that somehow manage to reflect on a lifetime of bad decisions and mistakes.
Clint Eastwood is more on top of his game now than ever been before, providing us with occasional moments of unfiltered Eastwood, which gives fans those politically incorrect jokes that we all know and love, yet he embodies the role of a man absolutely out of time and out of breath, initially struggling to admit his own mistakes, but slowly apologizing and appreciating the life that he has been given and the family that he has mostly ignored.
The Mule is a powerhouse film that no-doubtably represents the end of an era and the end of a career. Eastwood could stop directing/acting tomorrow and I would be perfectly fine, because The Mule is a stellar example of Eastwood’s agility and magnitude as a first-class filmmaker unmoved by age or time.