The Mule, directed by Clint Eastwood, is an awkward, confusing experience that somewhere beyond the uncomfortable scenes and odd directorial decisions in a somewhat charming little film that I think I enjoyed. Genuinely, I am going to struggle with this review, because even at this very moment, having had a decent amount of time to try to evaluate what exactly I sat through, I’m still conflicted and confused as to what The Mule was supposed to be and some of the decisions that made it into the film. So, join me on this journey, as I try to figure out what it was, I watched and if it was any good.
Earl Stone – played by Clint Eastwood – is a 90-year old horticulturist and Korean War veteran who has always put work before family. But when the age of the internet dismantles his once thriving flower business, he turns to transporting drugs for the Mexican cartel (naturally). It’s in this new line of work, Earl unexpectedly has the chance to reconnect with his family and also splash a little cash on himself. But the good times won’t last forever, and threats lie on the horizon for Earl.
I’ve always found Clint Eastwood to be a hit-or-miss kind of director – with it being A LOT of misses in recent times – but despite his many failings as a director, I always find myself coming back to his films. I don’t know why, as Eastwood is an inefficient, clumsy filmmaker who seems more interested in getting a scene complete and moving onto the next, than he does anything else. Eastwood’s pretty infamous at this point for being a director who shoots one take, two at a stretch and then moving on. It’s decisions like this are why I often think his films feel rushed, disjointed and a little difficult to follow. This approach to filmmaking is why I find it odd that I for some reason continue to watch his films and make any time for them
When it comes to The Mule however, even with Eastwood’s less than respectable methods, it’s perhaps one of his stronger films in the last few years, despite still being an utterly confusing journey laden with some narrative decisions that truly boggle the mind.
Initially, I struggled a lot to find a rhythm with The Mule. The pace of the film and the jarring way in which it got its primary story going had me completely lost as to what was happening, and so I preparing to settle in for yet another film by Eastwood that is great in concept but totally botched in execution.
With The Mule, there are elements in its story and its characters that feel antiquated and a little uncomfortable to watch. There were a number of times where I sat there in my seat feeling put off by what I was seeing or hearing. And I think that came from the fact that it was all elements that seemed to be there to either caress the director’s ego or give him the chance to show some of his unfortunate true colours. I mean this is a film where Eastwood’s character has more than one threesome scene – all of which are pretty uncomfortable to watch when you consider he’s the man in charge – and a number of scenes where there is some casual racism that is totally unnecessary in the context of the moment and never seems to serve the story or the character. They’re just there for reasons that never play a part in the actual film.
So you’d think with the inefficiency of Eastwood’s directing and some extremely questionable decisions by the director, that this film would be a total write off, but… this is the continually confusing thing about this film and why it continues to boggle my mind – and seemingly anyone who I talk too about it –there is still a charm to this film and a sincerity that makes moments with the film endearing and enjoyable.
The film’s exploration of it’s lead character certainly offers some moments of fulfilment, and that’s because it does a decent job at balancing the work side of Earl’s life with the troubled family side of Earl’s life. Both these elements play an integral part in the other and it’s through them that some fairly poignant moments come from a character who at times can feel jumbled in his characterisation. Despite all of Earl’s failings and the journey he sets out on, he was always a character I found myself wanting to engage with and wanting to see where said journey may take him. There was an undeniable innocence to him, and because of that it made his less acceptable ways never feel antagonistic or malicious in intent. The character of Earl also gives Eastwood himself the chance to give a pretty emotionally charged performance. It’s the kind of work I don’t feel I’ve seen from him in a while; it caught me off guard and I found it to be quite effective at times.
Beyond the films primary story beat, the side story involving Bradley Cooper as a DEA agent who was hunting down the mysterious mule, felt completely removed from the rest of the film. Anytime it cut to him and that portion of the story, it felt like it was taking place in a completely different film. It was only in two scenes near the end of the film that there’s a significant and really quite satisfying exchange between the two that I felt did a decent enough job of somewhat salvaging what had undoubtedly been the weakest element of a script that is for the most part relatively strong.
The Mule is an odd one. I did enjoy my time with it; it was never a film I was bored by, nor did I ever find myself wishing it to be over. But it’s also a film that’s problematic in some areas, and completely confusing in other areas. Interestingly though, I would say it’s definitely one of Eastwood’s stronger films in the last few years, and one I came out of not being completely frustrated or angered by – which was something I never thought would be the case again.
I think I’m okay with recommending, The Mule. The film will certainly bother some and it’s not one that you necessarily need to rush out to see. It’s there if you’re interested and I think for the most part you’ll be content with the time you spend with it, but in all honesty, this isn’t a film I expect to pay much attention too after this review is published.
What did you think of The Mule and what did you think of my review of it? Feel free to leave a wee comment down below letting me know. If you liked what you read and are interested in hearing more of my thoughts on movies, well you can not only follow this blog directly and my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings – where you’ll be kept up-to-date on new posts, but I now also have my own podcast entitled ‘The Meandering Movie Podcast’ which is available on iTunes (https:/apple.co/2FUkAhU ) and Soundcloud (https://bit.ly/2S4sMm6) and the Twitter for that – @MeanderingPod – has all you’ll need to know on it. Thank you for stopping by and I hope to see you return in the future!