Starring Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Michael Pena, Tessa Farmiga, Alison Eastwood, Andy Garcia, Laurence Fishburne, Dianne Wiest, Clifton Collins Jr., Ignacio Serricchio,
Clint Eastwood has managed to create one of the most talked about films of the awards season, that’s not participating in the awards race. The Mule, directed and starring Eastwood, is more creative in style and content than Robert Redford’s aging criminal flick The Old Man and the Gun, both inspired by true stories. It took Clint Eastwood to get retired legend Gene Hackman back on screen, I spoil this cameo because I regretfully missed it. Look for it in the first moments where Eastwood’s character greats an old friend. The Mule doesn’t hold a candle to Eastwood’s work on Million Dollar Baby or Gran Torino, but it’s a nice reminder of more simplistic filmmaking, the minimalist quality that Eastwood is known for. A lot of bigger name supporting actors are wasted in thankless roles, but the driving force in this story is how it never quite takes the path the audience expects.
Self-absorbed, absent, work-a-holic, that’s how Earl Stone’s family describes the 90-year-old. His marriage of ten years ended because he was more interested in his horticulture business than wife (Weist) or daughter (Alison) Eastwood). “Damn internet ruins everything,” Stone (Eastwood) says when the modern convenience puts him out of business. Desperate for money, he stumbles on a driving job. Trips from rural Illinois to El Paso pay very well as long as he doesn’t ask what’s in the bed of the truck. In just a few runs, Stone, the old man with the perfect driving record, has enough money to save his home, help his granddaughter (Farmiga) and invest in the community. He becomes such a good, unsuspecting mule, the shipments progressively increase, making the handlers nervous.
The Mule doesn’t hold a candle to Eastwood’s work on Million Dollar Baby or Gran Torino, but it’s a nice reminder of more simplistic filmmaking, the minimalist quality that Eastwood is known for
I couldn’t help but laugh at the double meaning to Eastwood’s line about the internet, since Warner Bros decided to forego film festivals, screeners and awards consideration. It’s true, The Mule isn’t that type of film, although no one would have been shocked if Eastwood landed an acting nomination from The Golden Globes like Redford. Much of the script deals with Stone trying to function in the modern, politically correct sensitive world, texting is his big disability. There are a handful of moments certain to make some uncomfortable. Still, The Mule manages to surprise in the direction is takes and even more so, where it doesn’t go. Much like themes in Gran Torino or Million Dollar Baby, The Mule is about priorities.
Despite it’s subject matter and co-starring Bradley Cooper (A Star is Born), The Mule is lighter fare with little to chew on after the credits. Cooper has more screen time than expected, but it’s a thankless role. It’s always wonderful to see Weist on screen, but she is miscast here as Eastwood’s resentful ex-wife (Diane Keaton would have been better). Garcia, Fishburne, Pena and Collins Jr are all just happy to be working alongside Eastwood, also given very little to do. Eastwood is fully aware of what people think of him, that personification plays into his character and might be part of the reason WB didn’t want to showcase the film the way it normally would have. It will appease the Cooper/Eastwood fan base but it’s ultimately insignificant when compared to the unique and creative offerings this season.
The Mule never quite results in what you expect, that being it’s most praise worthy factor.