the mule

DIRECTOR: clint eastwood (mystic river, million dollar baby, american sniper)
STARRING: clint eastwood, bradley cooper, laurence fishburne, and andy garcia

 

REVIEWER: nick tonkin

Broke, alone and facing foreclosure on his business, 90-year-old horticulturist Earl Stone takes a job as a drug courier for a Mexican cartel. His immediate success leads to easy money and a larger shipment that soon draws the attention of hard-charging DEA agent Colin Bates. When Earl's past mistakes start to weigh heavily on his conscience, he must decide whether to right those wrongs before law enforcement and cartel thugs catch up to him.

The film opens with Eastwood’s character Earl Stone as the centre of attention at a horticulturist expo in 2005, fans flocking to his booth for a sample of his flowers. Eyes follow him casting aspersions as much as praise. Later, at a bar after an awards ceremony where he took centre stage, Stone offers drinks all around. The bartender, slightly taken aback at the generosity asks if he meant the bridal party at the back of the venue too. Cogs turn in his mind, realisation dawns on him that he missed his daughter’s wedding for a flower awards show. He says to the bartender "Yeah, them too."


Jumping forward to the present Stone’s business and home have been foreclosed and his employees laid-off. Nowhere to turn and his ute laden with his belongings, he heads to his family. His newly engaged granddaughter is having a party, and is thrilled to see her grandfather finally show up. Her mother and grandmother can’t bear the sight of him, his absence throughout the important moments of their lives too much to forgive. Rejected, Stone makes to leave when he is approached by a partygoer who recognises the signs of someone down on their luck. He offers Stone a number, for a job where you just drive. One run turns to two turns to eight as there is always something that needs to be done - his old ute dies, his local burns down, and his granddaughter can’t afford to finish University. His consistency and reliability attracts the attention of the cartel bosses. Stone is in deep, and now the authorities are taking notice.

 

The film hints at tension, violence and action with moments of each, but they pass by – ultimately aiming instead to be an exploration of Stone. His realisation of the hurt he has caused his family over the years and his attempts to atone for this are the centre of the film and do prove compelling, despite how his new line of work effectively undermines this. The conflict between these two plot lines is readily apparent when his family accept and embrace him after all is said and done – which seems to be counter-intuitive to the stance they had towards him for most of the film. This is a moment where the film eschews realism for melodrama, though forgivable as it is a touching moment of family reconciliation.

The Mule is a pleasant character piece with a great performance by Eastwood and a strong, if under-utilised supporting cast. Though not an essential Eastwood film, it is easily recommendable as a touching film about a man who seeks reconciliation with his family.

 

Though not an essential Eastwood film, The Mule is a pleasant character piece with a great performance by Eastwood and a strong, if under-utilised supporting cast. 

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