At age 88, Clint Eastwood is somehow one of the more ambitious individuals in Hollywood. He acts, he directs….he writes SCORES for cryin’ out loud….and, above it all, his stuff is good. Darn good. Thought provoking and sentimental, even with his seemingly utter refusal to sentimentalize.
While his latest offering, ‘The Mule’ might not offer up a whole lot of what we haven’t already seen from Eastwood – a character study of a man oozing with regrets and trying to cobble together some morality at the finish line of his life without sacrificing any of his stubborn beliefs or strength. Think ‘Gran Torino’ takes a road trip, and you’re not far off from the gist of ‘The Mule’.
Based on a true story about an elderly horticulturist in need of money who falls into a gig transporting drugs for a Mexican drug cartel, ‘The Mule’ pits director/star Eastwood in a pretty comfortable spot – that being, an amiable criminal. It doesn’t require the heavy emotional lifting as, say, a ‘Million Dollar Baby’ or an ‘Unforgiven’…..but it’s a good fit for Clint. As Earl Stone, he’s able to crack a joke or two, growl and fuss as only he can, and most importantly, he’s able to chew up the emotional stuff that he’s oh-so-good with in act three, when his character finally has to make that consequential choice between family or whatever else life is throwing at you.
A lot of big stars come out for this one. Bradley Cooper plays an up-and-coming stud in the DEA who takes it upon himself to track down the mysterious figure who has somehow eluded law enforcement in distributing a mammoth amount of drugs. Michael Pena is Cooper’s partner. Laurence Fishburne is Cooper’s boss. Andy Garcia is the cartel kingpin. Dianne Wiest is Eastwood’s long-suffering ex-wife. His own daughter, Alison Eastwood, plays his…get this….daughter (casting, huh?). The list goes on and on. And Clint, with that keen, veteran eye for what works, is intelligent enough to step back when he has to and let this plethora of talent do their thing….yet, without handing over the spotlight. ‘The Mule’, after all, is about Earl’s journey, Earl’s pain, and – if it all somehow comes together – Earl’s redemption.
There’s often a lightness in the tone of ‘The Mule’ that might initially come off as an ill fit given the subject matter, but after a few frames, the realization settles in that it’s simply – and comfortably, for that matter – pure Eastwood. And even with his enormous confidence, there’s an evident fragility to him here that’s very noticeable…..I mean, he IS 88 years old, let’s not forget. It elicits mad respect, but also a tinge of sadness. I always look so forward to each and every Clint Eastwood release…..he’s my favorite film maker by a LONG shot, has been for decades. ‘The Mule’ made me overly aware that it’s only so much longer that we’re going to see the words “directed by Clint Eastwood” on that big screen. So let’s enjoy the man’s incredible work, while we still can. ‘Cause while ‘The Mule’ might not measure up to some of the goodies on mind boggling highlight reel, it IS incredible – no doubt about it.