If you dare categorize the world using Clint Eastwood’s career, you would end up with three distinct groups – the ones who know him as an actor, the ones who know him as a director, and the ones who know him as a performer. As you expand yourself by assimilating more than one facet of the man, you don’t just start respecting him. You regard him with a reverence that may rarely ever be imparted to any other thespian. With a career spanning over five decades with almost a hundred film credits and about fifty credits as a director, Eastwood is an institution. Through his prolific filmography as a venerable director, Eastwood has explored every conceivable genre each standing tall in its own right except, perhaps, for comedy. Sure he has had back to back hits with Every Which Way But Loose (1978) and its sequel Any Which Way You Can (1980), but those did not see him as the director. Honkytonk Man (1982) was the closest he ever came to directing a comedy of sorts. The film was set as an American musical drama during the Great Depression where a struggling western singer called Red Stovall who dreams of catching his break in the Grand Ole Opry, something akin to Broadway. In a journey with his young nephew Whit, Stovall discovers that he has tuberculosis and just days to live. A classic tale for the ages.
The Mule, at the outset, seemed like an out-and-out drama from the trailers. There were drug-dealers involved and one particular scene where you see a bloody-faced Eastwood solemnly driving a car. When I actually got around to watching it, the tone of the film was starkly different than what I had anticipated. I had, somehow, visualized Eastwood in a character arc like that of Walk Kowalski from his 2008 film Gran Torino where he plays an irascible old man who gets inadvertently embroiled in a street-war which also turned out to be a race-war.
The Mule sees Eastwood as a war veteran named Earl Stone who is estranged from his family for missing his only daughter’s wedding ‘cause he had to attend a Lily Flower competition where he wins every year. Of all the things in the world that you could neglect your family for. Unfortunately, a few years later his business goes bust thanks to the internet. As luck would have it, a man approaches him and offers him a proposition where he could be paid good money for just “driving around”. When Stone arrives at the address provided, he realizes that there was some shady business going on. A bunch of Mexican guys instruct him to take “the bag” to the location specified, park his vehicle there and take a stroll for an hour. A little confused and hesitant, Stone agrees to do it. When he returns to his car after the hour, he finds an envelope with a thick wad of cash in it.
What had started out as a one-time thing for him, now becomes his full-time job. As cash starts flowing in, Stone gets his house back from foreclosure, helps a friend re-start his business, and basically becomes a benefactor for his community. All from the drug money that he had earned. When everything seems to be going well for the old man, the DEA catch a sniff of “a mule” who has been helping the drug-cartel move large quantities of drugs across states.
is straight out of an SNL sketch. Aside from the fact that he moves millions of dollars worth of illegal drugs across the state, you see him giving life-advice to the drug-dealers and policemen alike.
The premise of a civil man involved in an immoral activity always makes for some interesting story-telling. Breaking Bad is a standing testament to that. You root for the old man whose life has fallen apart and who has nothing to lose, as he takes on this dangerous job. Eastwood’s portrayal of a wire-framed, slightly stooped grandpa drug-mule is straight out of an SNL sketch. Aside from the fact that he moves millions of dollars worth of illegal drugs across the state, you see him giving life-advice to the drug-dealers and policemen alike. You see him chatting away with people at motels, and basically enjoying his life just how a cheeky, wizened old man would.
But that’s exactly where the appeal of the story ends. However much I tried, I just could not get invested into Stone’s background and his family. There are a few poignant scenes where light has been thrown on the relationship between his ex-wife and himself. But the bond was not established enough for us to lament for it. I also felt a problem with the writing of some scenes where the reactions that the characters showed did not feel natural, especially the court-room scene where Eastwood goes against his advocate and declares himself guilty. At this point, the reaction from his family just feels weird. The character-arcs for the supporting cast also feel drab. When you have actors like Andy Garcia, Lawrence Fishburne and Bradley Cooper, you would expect some more interesting layers in the story than there was. By the time the characters of Cooper and Eastwood get to meet in the story, it already the last act. It would have been so much more interesting had Cooper’s character met Stone early on in the story, become friends, only to learn later that Stone had been the infamous drug-mule he had been looking for all this time. And he had been his friend all along.
The Mule would be the weakest Clint Eastwood film that I have watched. The story had potential but it fell prey to over-estimating the malleability of the premise. In any case, watch the film for Earl Stone/Clint Eastwood if not for anyone else.