Film review: ‘The Mule’ is vintage Eastwood2 min read . Updated: 04 Jan 2019, 02:00 PM IST
Comedy and drama intermingle in this film about an unlikely felon
Earl Stone is a celebrated horticulturist who regularly wins trophies at Daylily conventions. But he’s so busy revelling in attention outside that he neglects his family, missing his daughter’s wedding and several other significant anniversaries.
In 2005, Earl was at the top of his game, but 12 years later the flowers in his nursery have wilted and the banks are foreclosing on his business. “The internet ruins everything," Earl says, even as he packs up his truck and gets on the road without a plan B in mind. But destiny delivers an opportunity to make a quick buck and octogenarian Earl grabs it without a second glance. He starts working as a mule – ferrying drugs across the country for the Mexican drug cartel for a fee. This, of course, comes with the danger of arrest from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and possible death at the hands of the cartel.
In Chicago, agent Bates (Bradley Cooper) has been enlisted to crack down on the drug trade. Along with his partner. Trevino (Michael Pena), he’s building an investigation and tightening the net on the cartel headed by Laton (Andy Garcia) and its most successful mule. Meanwhile, Earl is taking small steps to make amends with his estranged wife (Dianne Wiest), daughter (Alison Eastwood) and grand-daughter (Taissa Farmiga), believing that money can buy back their love.
Nick Schenk’s screenplay is based on a New York Times article, “The Sinaloa Cartel’s 90-Year-Old Drug Mule". The story is fascinating and textured, but the repeated delivery runs get repetitive. That the 88-year-old Eastwood both directs and leads the cast contributes hugely to the impact of this beautiful story, which is loaded with caustic wit and emotional tugs. One of the lovely light moments is watching Eastwood sing along to old tunes as he drives his truck cross-country.
Eastwood’s zeal and command of his craft – both as director and actor – are remarkable even as you feel both empathy and irritation for this hunched-over, shuffling and wrinkled felon who offsets his recklessness with public caution. He learns quickly, and he knows the road is not just about the destination – stopping to enjoy the best pulled pork sandwich in the mid-west or to sip coffee while offering unsolicited advice to the unsuspecting Bates, played with poise by Cooper.
Comedy and drama are gently woven together in this twilight-years story seen through the eyes of a man who’s coming to terms with change and technology. Even as Earl navigates dangerous waters, you root for Eastwood and his infectious, undying passion for film.