The Mule (2018)

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Critic Consensus: A flawed yet enjoyable late-period Eastwood entry, The Mule stubbornly retains its footing despite a few missteps on its occasionally unpredictable path.

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Earl Stone, a man in his 80s who is broke, alone, and facing foreclosure of his business when he is offered a job that simply requires him to drive. Easy enough, but, unbeknownst to Earl, he's just signed on as a drug courier for a Mexican cartel. He does well -- so well, in fact, that his cargo increases exponentially, and Earl is assigned a handler. But he isn't the only one keeping tabs on Earl; the mysterious new drug mule has also hit the radar of hard-charging DEA agent Colin Bates. And even as his money problems become a thing of the past, Earl's past mistakes start to weigh heavily on him, and it's uncertain if he'll have time to right those wrongs before law enforcement, or the cartel's enforcers, catch up to him.

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Critic Reviews for The Mule

All Critics (112) | Top Critics (27)

The Mule thrives in teasing ambiguity...For decades now, Eastwood has been one of the great interrogators of American social mores.

Jan 3, 2019 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…

This movie is as much a eulogy for a country that Eastwood sees as slowly crumbling as it is for the life Earl chose to lead.

Dec 21, 2018 | Full Review…

A little nuance and it could have gotten there, but Eastwood's already moving on.

Dec 16, 2018 | Rating: B- | Full Review…

Tonally, this thing is a disaster, and you can only conclude that its maker, capable of sharp ironies as recently as 2014's American Sniper, didn't fully digest the material.

Dec 14, 2018 | Rating: 2/5 | Full Review…

There's nothing heroic about Earl, but in Eastwood's 38th film as a director, he makes the character a felonious centerpiece as likable as anyone could ever imagine.

Dec 14, 2018 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…
Observer
Top Critic

The story at its core deals with matters that have long been Mr. Eastwood's professional, and clearly personal, concern... When the old man finally mans up to his failings, the movie succeeds with special poignancy.

Dec 14, 2018 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The Mule

Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood returns onscreen for the final time in The Mule, an interesting, low-stakes crime drama showcasing Eastwood's work both in front and behind the camera. The Mule focuses on an over-the-hill botanist who has neglected his family and finds himself in desperate financial straits. He then uses his driving skills to transport narcotics for a Mexican cartel and becomes flush with cash. The setup bears some rough similarities with Breaking Bad in that we have an intelligent man well-versed in natural science forced into the narcotics trade for monetary reasons. Both have close shaves with the DEA and Mexican cartels and feature the theme of actions having brutal and sometimes disproportionate consequences. The Mule is as easy going and charming as its lead actor and despite its grim premise, avoids being bogged down in grimdark dramatics like other entries in the genre. It is relatively light on action, but the performances from Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, and the great supporting cast, along with the surprising amounts of humor and brisk pace, more than make up for it. While it doesn't have the same depth or level of cinematic merit as Gran Torino, I enjoyed this film a bit more. I don't know if this amounts to sacrilege but it's probably the most entertaining movie Eastwood has made in years. The venerable actor gives a bravura performance and he really seems at home in the role. His character uses his silver tongue to outwit potential threats and he enjoys himself while doing it. I'd have to agree with my best friend in that some of the best scenes are when he's simply driving, singing classic tunes, and bantering with his criminal companions. Just like the hardened men who accompany him, we are enchanted and perplexed by this man. If this is indeed Eastwood's final outing, then it was certainly a worthy one. See it for the cinematography, the score, the humor, and most importantly, see it for The Man With No Name. You're going to carry that weight.

Joshua Sheetz
Joshua Sheetz

Super Reviewer

KISS MY ASS - My Review of THE MULE (2 Stars) As much as I'm in awe of an 88-year-old man churning out a couple of films a year, two of which went on to win Best Picture Oscars, sometimes I wish Clint Eastwood would just slow the f*ck down and bring a little more TLC to the scripts he directs, the pacing, and tonal consistency. With THE MULE, his 37th feature film as a director, he has taken a totally compelling saga, adapted by Nick Schenk from Sam Dolnick's 2014 New York Times magazine story, and has delivered something scattershot, stop-and-go, and just plain odd. He has opted for something mild (which would have been a really good alternate review title now that I think about it) despite the fact that this story has social relevance and fairly high stakes. Eastwood plays Earl Stone, an elderly horticulturist who has gone broke, lost his house, and incurred the wrath of his ex-wife and daughter (played by Dianne Wiest and Alison Eastwood respectively), whom he consistently disappoints with his flaky behavior. If it weren't for his loving granddaughter Ginny (Taissa Farmiga), Earl would never be allowed at family functions, such as Ginny's wedding. It's at her pre-wedding celebration where Earl meets a guest who turns him on to a job opportunity driving mysterious packages across the country. Earl, being of the age that falls for email scams such as "I'm the Prince of Nigeria and can you hold onto my millions for a month", doesn't catch on at first that he's been hired as a mule for a Mexican drug cartel. Realizing he's quite good at driving unnoticed, Earl signs up for repeat assignments which solve his financial woes. It's only a matter of time, however, until the DEA catches up to him, with a serviceable Bradley Cooper and Michael Peña leading the charge. On paper, this sounds like a wonderful ticking clock thriller featuring current economic undertones and the difficulty our aging population has of finding its footing. Unfortunately, the script makes Earl an unrepentant casual racist and homophobe. He may learn to recognize that he's neglected his family all these years, but pretty much gets away with using the terms "maricon" and "negro" in moments which are meant to show how amusingly out of touch he is, instead of being an asshole. Oh that Earl! He's set in in his ways! Isn't he the bees knees? Eastwood also gives the film a too-folksy tone with its plethora of 70s soft rock hits and country jingles laid over every driving scene. Even more vexing is the middle of the movie scene in which a Latino gets pulled over by the cops and informs them twice that minorities are most likely to die at the point of being stopped by law enforcement. It's a worthwhile message, of course, but it comes across like an overwritten PSA. Everything about this film feels a little light and off-key, especially considering how serious his crimes are and how it contains the real possibility he could be killed or jailed at any moment. Earl's meant to be charming. He doesn't know how to text but he gets to know the cartel flunkies personally. He even turns the tension with his handler (Ignacio Serricchio form Netflix's LOST IN SPACE) into buddy comedy material. It's all fun and games until somebody gets hurt. It doesn't help that Eastwood works with a jumpy script. At one moment, Cooper's character is given until the end of the day to capture Earl. Sounds good. Let the tension mount. Instead, with no further mention of time running out, we cut to Earl arriving in Mexico to meet with the cartel head (Andy Garcia) and twerk endlessly with bikini-clad women at a pool party. Huh? What happened to the timeline? Holy SCARFACE, why this very long sidetrack to show us a rager? Didn't Eastwood get this sexy time out of his system in THE 15:17 TO PARIS? Why are there so many close-ups of butts? THE MULE doesn't really achieve its potential for depth because it doesn't quite take the rich material seriously. There's one great shot of Eastwood, however, towards the end of the film. Bloodied and bruised (although we're not sure how), he drives and looks into the camera with the soured, grizzled, mad at the world rage we've been waiting for. It captures perfectly the absurdity of the situation and tonally, this demeanor would have worked throughout. Perhaps the filmmakers are staying true to the real person, but this film would have had a lot more gravitas had it mined Earl's anger and not his genial side. To put it succinctly, I'd rather hear him yell "Get off my lawn" than sing along terribly to Charles Earland's "More Today Than Yesterday".

Glenn Gaylord
Glenn Gaylord

Super Reviewer

½

The Mule is a movie that's easy to impose our own thoughts on in regards to its star; what amount of the themes present here resonated with Mr. Eastwood because he has ceased to stop working for the better part of six decades? It's a thought that feels unavoidable, but what is almost more striking about the film is the vulnerability Eastwood as Earl Stone-an elderly man who begins working as a drug mule for the cartel due to his clean driving record and unassuming demeanor-puts on display as he seems desperate to ensure you like the guy. Eastwood has never seemed like the type of guy to care what anyone thinks, but with Stone-there is a need for validation that makes sense given the arc of the character, but that kind of subtly crosses over into the star/director as well. To this point, Stone is a terrible person as far as being able to engage with the big picture and someone who almost always makes the wrong decision when it comes to a choice between who he loves and what he loves, but in his old age his family have come to expect nothing less and lend him little to no credit because of it. A fascinating story that is executed cleanly, but with some real heart and humor, The Mule, is certainly some of the best work Eastwood has done both in front of and behind the camera in some time, but it his performance at the heart of this movie and the real-life implications that lend all the entertaining stuff going on that little something extra. In other words, a perfect movie for those who are looking for little more than a quality genre film with a strong story as well as for those who like a little more depth with their popcorn.

Philip Price
Philip Price

Super Reviewer

Whether it's with movies like Trouble with the Curve or even more recent movies like The 15:17 to Paris, it should go without question that Clint Eastwood isn't making classics when he puts himself behind the camera over the last decade. I believe Gran Torino was his last memorable film that people will revisit for years to come. With that said, as far as movies he has directed, The Mule is almost good enough to join his club of recent classics. The way he tells this story in a very straightforward fashion may prevent that from happening, but this is a very enjoyable movie from start to finish. At 88 years old, this man shows no signs of slowing down and when you can still have gems like this every now and then, why should he? I had a very good time watching this film and here's why. After being fired from his job of many years, the now 90-year-old man in Earl Stone turns to smuggling drugs in the back of his truck when given the opportunity. Earning the respect from many members of the Mexican Cartel, he becomes a little more entangled with the goings on than he had originally planned. He enjoys the big paydays, but his streak of luck may be soon running out. Being hunted by DEA agents, this story quickly becomes interesting. Cutting back and forth between the two storylines, these two stories made for a very likable overall film. It also doesn't hurt that Eastwood has assembled an all-star cast once again. Obviously, Clint Eastwood as the leading man will please many viewers, as he has become an all-time classic. On top of a great leading performance, Bradley Cooper, Lawrence Fishburne, Michael Peña, Andy Garcia, Taissa Farmiga, and a few notable others support this story with a force that felt needed. I honestly found myself engaged from start to finish, regardless of the pacing. If it were a quiet character moment or a sequence of intensity, I was on the edge of my seat. It's not the most exciting film I've seen in a while or anything of that nature, but it's a film that cares about the story it's telling and just goes for it. As I mentioned, it's very straightforward, which is where I find my biggest complaints. Once the core story kicks in, it does go through the motions that you come to expect from a story like this, with not much new to offer. He is thrust into a life of crime that he didn't expect, he enjoys the fame while it lasts, and it will all eventually collapse in one way or another. For that reason, I wasn't impressed by the movie on a storytelling level, but more on how the story itself was told. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, due to the dialogue that was written by Nick Schenk, who also handled a similar Eastwood character in Gran Torino. I wasn't a big fan of his previous work on The Judge, but I'm happy to see a big improvement here. I look forward to seeing what feature film comes from his screenplays next. Overall, The Mule will surely please fans of Clint Eastwood and fans of this genre in general, but those who go in hoping for a complex story that deviates from the norm may slightly be disappointed. This movie won't likely win any awards, but it's absolutely worth seeing. This is an easy watch with a solid screenplay, great performances, and an overall satisfying narrative. It's not a must see, but I do recommend checking out The Mule.

KJ Proulx
KJ Proulx

Super Reviewer

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