Ruined after internet ordering destroys his flower business, 90 year old horticulturalist Earl Stone (Clint Eastwood) is left with just his truck. Arriving unexpectedly at his grand daughter’s engagement party, he is universally shunned by his family for being the selfish father who always put his loved-ones last. Leaving in shame, one of the assembled guests stops him with an offer that might turn his life around. All he has to do is drive…
Well into the autumn of his film career actor/director Clint Eastwood can still deliver quality movies and ‘The Mule’ is no exception.
Well into the autumn of his film career actor/director Clint Eastwood can still deliver quality movies and ‘The Mule’ is no exception. Whereas his ‘15:17 To Paris’ felt horrifically self-conscious and ‘American Sniper’ was myopically polarising, the tone of ‘The Mule’ harks backs to his more successful ‘Gran Torino’.
Dried out in heat of the Illinois sunshine, Earl Stone is a fragile victim and a complete departure from Eastwood’s ‘Dirty Harry’ of old. With no trace of menace or the curling of lip that would precede an avalanche of vengeance, this is Eastwood the character actor buttoned down to the job at hand. Similar to Michael Caine’s turn in ‘Harry Brown’, this is an old age pensioner dislocated from the future where the young are now feral, cock-sure animals who see him solely as a spent shadow of the past.
Told is an ensnaring sequence of motorway deliveries, Earl welcomes all the benefits his new job brings. Perks taken en route and bundles of cash to redress his historic failings, he now has a license to peel away his past. However with Bradley Cooper and John Pena’s DEA officers under pressure to show results, an obvious road block can easily be seen forming up ahead.
That said, where the ‘The Mule’ succeeds is in neither surrendering its tone nor losing its nerve. An intentionally small scale drama with well-defined characters and a steadily accelerating climax, it neither veers into violence nor pulls over into preachy predictability. Holding true to the characters he’s set up, Eastwood lets each of them speak and react for themselves in a welcome return to restraint.
Depending on your expectations, ‘The Mule’ is a thoughtful drama which departs from Eastwood’s anti-hero back catalogue. In a role that would have suited a now-departed Harry Dean Stanton, Eastwood consciously lets go of his heroic past and fully embraces the character in front of him. If you can do the same, ‘The Mule’ will carry your expectations to a similarly rewarding conclusion.