The Mule

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The Mule

Runtime 115 minutes
R

Two Hollywood icons chose to go out in different ways in 2018. Robert Redford (82) chose a frivolous trifle, The Old Man and the Gun, that required meager effort and will be little known nor long remembered.

Clint Eastwood (88) chose to produce, direct and star in this, a film with an outstanding script (Nick Schenk, inspired by the New York Times Magazine article “The Sinaloa Cartel’s 90-Year-Old Drug Mule” by Sam Dolnick), and in which he appears in almost every scene. This is a film for which Eastwood should justly receive another Oscar® nomination for acting, if not directing. To be fair, Redford looked as if he had reached the end of the line whereas Eastwood looks like he could go on forever.

The simple story here is that nonagenarian Earl Stone (Eastwood) is in bad shape financially and on bad terms with his family when he falls into a job driving and delivering some unknown cargo to Chicago. What he really is, though, is a mule delivering drugs. Since he gets lots of cash, he continues doing it and living his self-centered lifestyle, spending his money on his friends and trying to buy back the goodwill of the family he has neglected all these years, including his ex-wife (Dianne Wiest) and his daughter (Alison Eastwood), and from which he remains estranged except for his granddaughter (Taissa Farmiga), who loves him and tries to understand. But as he gets deeper and deeper into the gig and discovers what he’s really doing, things inevitably turn difficult.

He is joined by an A-list cast of Bradley Cooper, Andy Garcia, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Peña, in addition to Wiest. This film has terrific pace and never drags. One of its many joys is the music Earl listens to as he’s driving the highway. In addition to original songs by Arturo Sandoval, Earl listens to “On the Road Again” by Willie Nelson, “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head” by Dean Martin, and many others. But out of them all, the best was “Cool Water” sung by Nellie Lutcher & Her Rhythm in a unique arrangement that is captivating.

This is another film that’s “inspired” by a true story and it’s the second of those written for Eastwood by Schenk, who also wrote another of Clint’s acting/directing forays, Gran Torino (2009). Eastwood admits, “We don’t really know what happened while the real guy was making these trips, but it was noted that he’d stop and help fellow travelers along the road, and that he used the money to get his farm out of hock.”

True or not, what they imagine here is compelling stuff extremely well presented in another bravura effort by actor/producer/director Clint Eastwood that confirms him as the most talented auteur extant.

Tony Medley is an MPAA-accredited film critic. See more reviews at TonyMedley.com.

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