By Alex Gehrlein ‘19
The Mule is neither the best, nor the worst film in Clint Eastwood’s directorial arsenal, but it is certainly one of the weakest. Coming from the heights of Gran Torino and Million Dollar Baby to a string of middling to mediocre films is rather disappointing, especially considering what we know Eastwood is capable of. It seems that for every good movie he makes he makes one that you might just as well skip. Personally, I prefer Eastwood as an actor, but that might just come down to the caliber of movies he was given to star in compared to the scripts he’s been working with recently. Films like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly will live on forever as some of the great pieces of cinema, while something like The Mule will fade from memory about a month after you’ve seen it.
What exactly is the problem here? It’s kind of hard to put your finger on. The movie is pretty entertaining, it does a pretty good job of keeping your attention, the performances are all pretty good, the script is pretty well written, and the cinematography is alright. That I think is the problem: everything is just okay. Nothing stands out. You don’t have amazing characters like Walt Kowalski. The story isn’t captivating like Million Dollar Baby. The cinematography isn’t as expressive as Unforgiven. The Mule does everything just adequately enough to be entertaining, but if you poke any holes in it you’ll find it’s completely hollow inside.
The story follows Earl Stone, an aging horticulturist, who after having his house foreclosed on, finds himself in need of money and takes the leap into drug trafficking. This transition is done quite laughably, with a character making a sloppy proposition to Eastwood’s character almost as if he were asking him how the weather was. Once the drug trafficking plot gets going the film picks up, but stops along the way for some poorly outlined cartel cutaways that add little to nothing to the film. The best scenes are when Eastwood is out on the road. It’s a joy to watch him behind the wheel or toying with his handlers. These scenes would work all the better if there was a better structure around them to support the rest of the film.
It’s a shame the film is this middling though, since Eastwood is working with some of his best collaborators. Bradley Cooper returns from American Sniper, and what excited me the most was the return of screenwriter Nick Schenk, who wrote Gran Torino back in 2008. Eastwood’s directing career has seen ups and downs, this film falls somewhere in between.