While the title for ‘America’s greatest living director’ might often be associated with Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood is often a sentiment favourite amongst his peers. In fact, I think he does a fine job of both directing and acting, often at the same time in many of his pictures. His films of late explore touchy subjects like innate racism and stereotypes of being a grumpy old man, but you cannot deny his films, like Gran Torino and The Mule (maybe his last), certainly touch a nerve with audiences.
I’m a big Clint Eastwood fan and I will see almost anything he does, even in his latest role as a senior citizen-type, who is broke, alone and facing the imminent threat of foreclosure on his horticultural business. In short, The Mule follows a desperately cash stricken, Earl Stone (Eastwood), as he becomes a drug mule transporting drugs in his pick up, to make quick cash for his own means and to ultimately help others. Though hot on Earl Stone’s heels is DEA agent, Colin Bates, played by Easwood’s protege Bradley Cooper, who circles in on his activities and his bosses, a Mexican drug cartel. Incredibly, this film is rounded out by an all-star cast which includes Michael Pena, Laurence Fishbone, Diane Wiest and Andy Garcia in a rare supporting role as a drug cartel boss.
I saw The Mule earlier this year and revisited it again recently on blu ray. Not much has changed in my opinion of it. In truth, there is a lot to like and dislike about this picture, especially whether or not we should root or feel sorry for the film’s protagonist in Earl Stone. For instance when Earl finally comes face to face with DEA agent Bates (who is unaware Earl is the elusive drug runner he is looking for) in a diner, we feel for him as he expresses his regret at not having been more of a family man, after spending almost every single moment of his adult life attending to his prizewinning daylillies. We even feel for him as he tries to make amends with his ex-wife, played by Diane Wiest, as she lies on her death bed having succumbed to cancer. But ultimately feeling sorry for Earl is hard to swallow as tries to win his families over with drug money he earned on his long drug hauls driving across the country. And even though at times we want to root for him, its hard to swallow the casual acceptance of lawlessness he takes part in. Deep down, breaking bad isn’t really Earl’s forte and he comes to realise he is out of his depth, in particular when his handlers have finally had enough of his arrogance and bullshit.
While some critics have noted that The Mule is at times clumsy and slow and that it misses a real opportunity to explore a thriller aspect to the story, don’t believe it for a minute. I still find that it works as a deeply satisfying story, especially as a poignant reminder of the most important things in our life like family. Furthermore, I believe Clint Eastwood’s direction and acting is solid, as is Bradley Cooper who does a fine job. Also terrific in their supporting role is Ignacio Serricchio (TV’s Bones and Lost in Space) who plays Earl’s cartel handler. Watch for the scenes where he struggles to keep a tight reign on Earl’s activities and almost blows a gasket. Moreover, Dianne Wiest who seems to be somewhat overlooked in her performance as Earls’ ailing ex-wife is also wonderful, especially her wry humour. “You’re the love of my life and you’re the pain of my life”, she tells Earl in one of the film’s most touching scenes.