The Mule - Review
Eastwood needs to pick better projects.
The only way The Mule fits into Clint Eastwood’s filmography is as the shaded cousin of Gran Torino. It’s not nearly as impactful, resonant, or relevant as that film, but it drives at the same themes, rarely eliciting more than a chuckle from the audience at the expense of the confused geezer Eastwood fumbles through.
The Mule oddly sequences itself as a multi-year epic, focusing on one of the least-likable characters Eastwood has played, Earl Stone. Broke and at risk of losing his home, Stone begins driving packages for a Mexican cartel. It begins as a way to make some money, but quickly spirals into a massive operation that involves murder, the FBI, and Stone’s family. One of the best things The Mule does is it makes its lead character a neanderthal, someone so uninterested in what he is transporting he puts it right in the trunk of his pick-up between his pecans. This creates some genuinely thrilling moments, like when the FBI (led by Laurence Fishburne’s unbelievably standard chief) set up a massive roadblock to stop Stone, who would’ve pulled over if a cop car rode by. Humor is mined here and there, but more often it comes from what the script wants you to think are hilarious moments. Stone’s penchant for strippers, his goofy singing during trips, and especially his ignorance. That last one is where The Mule goes for Gran Torino territory, attempting to create a character who hasn’t caught up with the times, but still knows how to love his neighbors: The Mule fumbles, and these moments come across as unfounded, unimportant bits of character building that never pay off into something more than the realization that Earl is a racist.
Elsewhere, The Mule can’t get a grip on its tone. One minute its hard boiled detectives, bashing in doors and beating up strangers for information on Stone’s cartel, the next we’re meant to laugh at Earl trading in his reliable pick-up for a massive new Ford. There is no trade-off between scenes, no passing of the baton to pull off this kind of tone. Created in the midst is a bland, gray-ish chunk that putters by as uneventfully as many of Stone’s runs, all of which are documented in an insufferable font at the bottom of the screen. That’s a personal affectation, nothing necessarily wrong with the film. It just looks ugly.
You’d do better to see this than Eastwood’s last confused effort, The 15:17 to Paris, but The Mule is about as watchable. Had another actor been cast in the lead role, and had the cartel not been represented by run-of-the-mill kingpins and margherita parties, and had the tone not been a congealed mess of lame sex jokes and corny writing, things might have been different. But we are stuck with the film we have. Three weeks after seeing the The Mule, I am still wracking my brain with the question, who is this film for?