2018, R, 116 min. Directed by Clint Eastwood. Starring Clint Eastwood, Taissa Farmiga, Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Peña, Dianne Wiest.
REVIEWED By Josh Kupecki, Fri., Dec. 21, 2018
It was Dirty Harry before it was the Sergio Leone films – for me, anyway. An introduction from an obsessive stepfather whose platonic love affair was with that steely-eyed presence, that wonderfully brusque countenance that exudes a masculinity that was effortless. There was no way you were going to be Clint Eastwood, but as an archetype of a particular role model, he was it. His later films often subverted this stance of his, this mildly annoying circumspection that reveals itself to be nothing more than someone whose inability to express himself leads to often fatal ends.
And here we are with The Mule, seeing Eastwood, now in his late 80s, portraying the life of Earl, just your average regular guy who basically stumbles into running millions of dollars worth of drugs for a Mexican cartel. How’d that happen? Well, as the film (based on a New York Times story) tells it, he basically fell into it. The need for income eventually outweighs the risks, but isn’t that how it often goes? The early scenes of Earl drumming his fingers on the steering wheel, listening to Roger Miller and Willie Nelson on the radio while he's amiably trafficking in drug distribution, afford some comfort. With the requisite scenes of diners and Waffle Houses, the anticipation of his eventual fall is both something to look forward to, and yet something to lament. This man, Earl, estranged from his family (these scenes are wince-inducing at best), a man trying to course-correct his ability to connect with humanity on other people’s terms. Which is the thing here. Because Eastwood’s career is cemented in the fact that he will not budge for anyone.
But he does, he tries. For all of the film’s gloss of cartel bad guys with their elaborate and menacing facial hair, and the inevitable showdown that has to happen, this is a movie about people caught up in doing things for the wrong reasons. But Eastwood plays it cool, thankfully. It’s the best film about drug trafficking that you can take your grandparents to.