The Mule movie review: Clint Eastwood's latest feature falls flat as both drama and thriller

Mihir Fadnavis

Jan 05, 2019 11:31:25 IST


Clint Eastwood still directing movies at age 88 is wonderful, and the fact that his films still make a lot of money is an even bigger deal. The Mule, his latest project, does not quite live up to his oeuvre, becoming a middling feature, one that occasionally works on an emotional level but falls flat as a thriller or a drama that it promises to be.

Clint Eastwood in The Mule. Image via Twitter

Clint Eastwood in The Mule. Image via Twitter

So here we have Eastwood playing Earl, a horticulturist whose business goes kaput thanks to the advent of the Internet. He’s approached by a shady guy to transport a package between Chicago and Texas for a Mexican drug cartel, and because of the quick buck that this transaction promises, Earl takes up the job. Because he’s so successful and has a good equation with his point man (Andy Garcia), his work load increases but so do his payments. Earl is now an old man enjoying the benefits of gigantic illegal money and the seductive bonuses it offers, as the DEA finds him a person of interest.

If you’re a huge Eastwood fan, no doubt this film will entertain you – almost every scene contains either a visual or aural reference of him, and you get to see him playing with his character’s moral compass. There are even moments when he has ‘fun’ as he gives in to the dark side, the appreciation of the visuals depend on how you decipher the moments clipped by our censor board.

This is still a step up from Eastwood’s previous film 15:17 to Paris, but many of the problems that marred that film seem to have permeated here – like the sluggish editing, and the lack of tension in scenes – it may be indicative of a director himself losing some of his energy. Earl has a problematic relationship with his ex-wife (Dianne Weist) and his daughter and granddaughter, but their dynamics are not very well established because it’s hard to tell who Earl really is. One moment he’s the same character from Gran Torino, hurling abuses towards the new generation of kids and their social media presence, being unsubtly racist towards African Americans and Mexicans (even though he’s working for the cartel); and in other moments, you’re suddenly supposed to root for him because his family never understood him as a person and should be there for him because he’s unwell.

There are also logical inconsistencies here. Earl is working for some guys carrying automatic weapons, but is shocked when he finds a packet of white powder in his boot. His own granddaughter is revealed to have some connection with the mafia but he doesn’t seem to be worried about her in any way. The script (by Gran Torino writer) Nick Schenk doesn’t seem to indicate that Earl is a master manipulator, so the only conclusion one can make is that he’s a moron, and rooting for a moronic character becomes harder as the film progresses. This is especially problematic during scenes where Earl chills with the bad guys, even doing karaoke with them – it’s more Lloyd Christmas than Walter White.

The performances don’t much compensate for the problems as Eastwood lacks the aforementioned energy, and Bradley Cooper (who plays a DEA honcho) seems to have phoned it in, with Michael Pena appearing in spurts from the sets of Narcos. The ultimate message the film offers may resonate with some viewers, but even they’re advised to wait for the streaming release for best results.

Updated Date: Jan 05, 2019 11:31:25 IST