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)

Oscar Watch: The Mule

It seemed a little odd that Clint Eastwood’s The Mule held its review embargo for as long as it did (it’s out tomorrow). After all, the crime thriller which features Eastwood in front of the camera for the first time since 2012’s Trouble with the Curve certainly was an on paper awards contender based on history. The director is no stranger to Oscar attention as Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby both won Best Picture.

Critical reaction is out and it’s actually pretty decent with a current Tomato rating of 82%. However, I suspect the best comparison for this would be the last time Eastwood directed himself – 2008’s hit Gran Torino. That feature landed with audiences, but failed to garner a single nomination from the Academy.

Bottom line: while reviews are mostly positive, The Mule is likely to be more of a potential hit with audiences than Oscar voters. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

The Mule Box Office Prediction

Clint Eastwood has been consistently behind the camera and offering about a movie a year for quite some time. His appearances in front of it have been far less frequent in recent years. That changes next weekend when the Oscar winner directs himself in The Mule. The pic is a true life crime tale with Eastwood as a World War II vet who becomes a courier for Mexican drug cartels. Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Pena, Dianne Wiest, and Andy Garcia are among the supporting cast.

As mentioned, we haven’t seen its star in a film since 2012’s Trouble with the Curve. He hasn’t directed himself since 2008’s blockbuster Gran Torino. Adult moviegoers will be targeted here and Eastwood’s involvement could do the trick. Whether or not it opens on a large-scale or plays well throughout the holiday weeks ahead is a little uncertain. That might depend on its reviews, which aren’t out yet.

If The Mule manages to top $18 million out of the gate, it would actually be Clint’s largest debut of a feature he’s acted in (the current record is held by 2000’s Space Cowboys). While the wide release of Torino generated nearly $30 million, it was released in limited fashion for a few weeks prior.

That’s not out of the realm of possibility, but I’ll project it falls just short of that as it hopes to leg out nicely in the weeks ahead.

The Mule opening prediction: $17.6 million

For my Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/12/04/spider-man-into-the-spider-verse-box-office-prediction/

For my Mortal Engines prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/12/06/mortal-engines-box-office-prediction/

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.

Oscar History: 2008

The 2008 Oscars will likely go down as the final year when only five films would compete in the granddaddy category of them all, Best Picture. The following year, the Academy would change it to ten and a couple years after that, developed a formula where anywhere from 5-10 movies could be recognized.

Many believe the reason is 2008’s exclusion of the critically lauded superhero sequel The Dark Knight, which had become the year’s highest grossing feature and was considered a major milestone in the burgeoning genre. Yet with the exception of its acclaimed Joker, Knight was shut out in the major categories.

Best Picture instead went to a true “little movie that could” – Danny Boyle’s out of nowhere critical and audience pleaser Slumdog Millionaire.

It would win out over David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon, Gus Van Sant’s Milk, and Stephen Daldry’s The Reader. It is a bit surprising that Oscar voters left out Knight and I would put forth that a decent argument could also be made for Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, which also stands as a creative high point in the comic book canon of movies.

In the Best Director category, it was a rare example of the five nominated auteurs matching the Picture nominees and Boyle would take home the gold over Fincher, Daldry, Van Sant, and Howard. Once again, Christopher Nolan would be on the outside looking in for his Knight direction.

Sean Penn would win his second Best Actor statue (2003’s Mystic River being the first) for playing gay activist Harvey Milk in Milk.

Other nominees: Richard Jenkins in The Visitor, Frank Langella in Frost/Nixon, Brad Pitt in Benjamin Button, and Mickey Rourke in a career comeback role as The Wrestler.

Certainly Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man could have been considered along with Leonardo DiCaprio in Revolutionary Road, Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino, and the Slumdog Millionaire himself Dev Patel.

After a number of nominations with no victories, Kate Winslet would win Best Actress for The Reader, beating out Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married). Angelina Jolie (Changeling), Melissa Leo (Frozen River), and the omnipresent Meryl Streep (Doubt).

It was a bit surprising to see Cate Blanchett’s work in Benjamin Button go unrecognized.

The Dark Knight would win its Oscar with the late Heath Ledger taking Supporting Actor as the Joker. Other nominees: Josh Brolin (Milk), Robert Downey Jr. (Tropic Thunder), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Doubt), and Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road).

While it was refreshing to see the Academy nominate a comedic performance like Downey’s in Tropic Thunder, an equally good argument could have been made for Tom Cruise’s role in that picture. Same goes for James Franco’s exemplary work as a stoner in Pineapple Express.

Woody Allen has directed several actresses to Supporting Actress wins and he did it again with Penelope Cruz in Vicky Christina Barcelona.

She would be victorious over Amy Adams in Doubt, Viola Davis – also for Doubt, Taraji P. Henson in Benjamin Button, and Marisa Tomei for The Wrestler.

I might’ve found room for Frances McDormand in the Coen Brothers Burn After Reading.

And that’s all for now on the Oscar History front! I’ll be back with 2009 in the near future…