The Mule Movie Review

If fish out of water tales with Mexican drug cartels is your desired viewing option, you can’t go wrong with “Breaking Bad”. Clint Eastwood’s The Mule is a considerably more mixed bag. Let’s call it Walter Whiter as our octogenarian subject makes a curious late career choice that is actually based (loosely) on true events. We have seen Eastwood go down the “I’m too old for this…” bit a few times in the past few years. This might rank as the strangest.

The first half of The Mule is engaging in its amiable way. Our star and director plays Earl, whose horticulture business is on its last legs thanks to that darn internet. He’s a man who makes fast friends and loves life on the road and has ignored his family along the way. That includes an ex-wife (Dianne Wiest), a child who won’t speak to him (real-life daughter Alison Eastwood), and granddaughter (Taissa Farmiga) who still wishes to connect.

A job opportunity arises for Earl to spend most of his time driving. It happens to be crossing state lines to transport larges volumes of cocaine. He’s pretty decent at the gig, earning the nickname “El Tata” (grandfather) from his heavily armed coworkers. Andy Garcia is head of the cartel. The new job leaves Earl flush with money and women. If you thought Clint Eastwood and threesome action isn’t something you’d ever see in a movie, think again. And again. Tata also garners the attention of the DEA, led by Bradley Cooper’s agent, Michael Pena as his partner, and Laurence Fishburne as their boss.

When The Mule enters its second phase, Earl is trying to make amends with numerous poor choices (a frequent theme in the filmmaker’s work). This is when the carefree tone shifts rather uncomfortably. None of the supporting characters are really developed at all. You get the feeling most of these accomplished actors just wanted to work with Clint. The dramatic exchanges with family members feels stilted.

I can’t deny there’s some joy in watching Eastwood for a while. If you loved Gran Torino, you’ll probably at least like this. There’s also no denying that he’s tackled similar themes with far superior results. As Earl attempts to get his act together, he goes off grid from his day job. I doubt one of the true elements in this fact based tale involved his bosses not being able to locate him for days. Don’t they track his cell phone? Or have his vehicle bugged? I found myself pondering this in the final act. Despite a game showcase performance, perhaps resenting the screenplay’s disregard for the intelligence of drug lords means the picture isn’t clicking on all cylinders.

**1/2 (out of four)

The Mule Charges Into Oscar Contention

A bit of an awards season surprise turned up today when Warner Bros announced that Clint Eastwood’s The Mule will be out on December 14. The film casts Eastwood in the true story of a World War II vet who becomes a courier for Mexican drug cartels at age 80.

The Mule marks Eastwood’s first turn in front of the camera since 2012’s Trouble with the Curve. It’s the first time he’s directed himself since 2008’s hit Gran Torino. While it’s been a little while since he’s acted, he has been churning out directorial efforts every year. It’s no accident that every time he does, Oscar chatter follows.

Over the past quarter century plus, Eastwood has seen a number of his pictures win and be nominated. In 1992, Unforgiven won Best Picture and Director. Twelve years later, Million Dollar Baby was a surprise late addition to the awards season calendar (as this is). It also won Picture and Director. Additionally, Mystic River, Letters from Iwo Jima, and American Sniper all received nods in the big race.

Just last year, The 15:17 to Paris was assumed to be another possibility for inclusion for consideration. It ended up coming out in February of this year and was a commercial and critical failure. Paris is nowhere on the radar screen for Academy chatter this year.

Will The Mule be a different story? Another Million Dollar Baby that alters the Oscar race? While we’ll have to wait for buzz and reviews (there’s not even a trailer yet), some signs point to no.

There’s already rumors that Warner Bros is looking at this as more of a commercial venture  than one they will focus on for awards campaigning. The studio already has a very serious contender on its docket with A Star Is Born. Speaking of, Eastwood’s costars here include Bradley Cooper (director and star of Born) as well as Dianne Wiest, Michael Pena, Laurence Fishburne, Taissa Farmiga, and Alison Eastwood.

Even if Warner doesn’t see this as their largest Academy player, we will see if critics and audiences feel differently. One thing is for sure – we have another movie to keep an eye on in 2018.