Clint Eastwood stars and directs this film, starring as a 90-year-old named Earl Stone who has found himself estranged from his family and now financially broke. In order to make amends, he starts driving drugs for a Mexican cartel (run by Andy Garcia). His wife (Dianne Wiest) and daughter (played by his actual daughter Alison Eastwood) are hesitant to welcome him back, while his granddaughter (Taissa Farmiga) is a little more willing. While this is happening, we also follow the DEA (Laurence Fishburne, Bradley Cooper, and Michael Pena) as they track the cartel and eventually start looking for Earl.
The performances here are stellar, highlighted of course by Clint Eastwood, who delivers an incredibly subtle performance. I wouldn’t call myself an Eastwood connoisseur, I’ve only seen a handful of movies, but here he delivers something really special and heartbreaking, obviously carrying decades of regret. The other standout is Dianne Wiest, who shows the most emotional range as she struggles with years of built up hostility and also the hope of a happy future. Bradley Cooper and Michael Pena get plenty of screentime but they don’t flex the same sort of acting muscles that Eastwood and Wiest showcase.
The Mule is also beautifully directed, with some incredible cinematography. It manages to make him driving for most of the movie seem interesting and compelling. The movie is a tad long but it never feels long, which is a bonus.
I initially had a problem with the music in the film, but it slowly turned into something I appreciated. The soundtrack was big band tracks and jazz standards and it felt like old timey music that didn’t feel like our time. And then I started to get it, that Earl’s character was also out of time, struggling to use technology and not understanding “kids these days.” So the soundtrack reflected that perfectly, once I understood the connection.
An easy way to lose points in my book, is to mismanage the ending of the film. If you don’t nail the landing, a perfect movie now becomes much less so. Luckily, The Mule has a fantastic ending. Maybe not one you like per se but an excellent ending that makes sense for this story.
What didn’t work?
The movie might feel slow, in the way that all serious dramas might feel slow. It’s jarring coming off of high-octane action flicks, so it’s a transition to get back into that mode. Not a negative, just a note that you need to be mentally prepared for this sort of story and pacing.
The Mule is a fantastic film, highlighted by an award-worthy performance by Clint Eastwood. He also might get a nomination for Director, that wouldn’t surprise me either. It’s a slower movie than a lot of other films, but I didn’t have a problem with the pacing, it all felt perfectly timed. The story is gripping, with plenty of suspense, but the core of the movie are the characters.