Edition 8 March 2019, by By James Luxford
Even at 88 years old, Clint Eastwood remains a vital and interesting film maker, occasionally going back to his original trade of acting when the role requires it. Here he takes on both as director/star of this drama, based on the true story of a botanist in his 80’s (Eastwood) who attempts to get himself out of financial trouble by becoming a drug mule for a Mexican drug cartel. The new role helps him to address his failings as a husband and father, finding some form of personal redemption along the way.
To say Eastwood has made better films would be an unfair criticism, given the breadth and quality of his work would be enough to fill ten careers. Taken on its own merits, The Mule is a surprisingly cosy drama that relies on the gruff charisma Eastwood displayed in films such as Gran Torino, with his journeys across often providing more entertainment than the main plot, which wanders at times and takes some questionable narrative turns. Unlike Robert Redford’s similarly themed The Old Man and The Gun, this film rarely amps up the tension, offering that you enjoy the ride rather than worry about the ‘hero’s’ outcome. Alongside the always watchable Eastwood are a host of stars who all seem delighted to be working with an icon. Laurence Fishburne and Bradley Cooper, both of whom have worked with Eastwood in the past, deliver strong performances as the agents on his tail, while there is a lot of power in the moments between Eastwood and his on-screen daughter, played by his real life daughter Alison Eastwood. The always wonderful Dianne Weist makes the most of a smaller part as Eastwood’s ex-wife. On the side of the cartel, Andy Garcia is a serviceable choice as the cartel boss, even if his casting feels a bit obvious.
When people look back on the great man’s career, it’s unlikely that The Mule will stand out with the likes of Unforgiven or Million Dollar Baby. It is, however, a fine latter years entry into his filmography that shows the power of Eastwood’s abilities even at such an advanced age. The film maker has often said that he will never retire, and judging by the quality of this entertaining story he has no need to.