THE MULE: Because Clint Eastwood is regarded as one of America’s premier filmmakers (See CLOSING CREDITS.), I think he tends to get overlooked as an actor. At 88, he’s still in top form as a down on his luck nurseryman who becomes an interstate courier for the Sinaloa drug cartel. What’s never clear in Nick Schenk’s straightforward screenplay are what the title character’s actual motives are for doing the job. Although a well-traveled businessman (“41 out of 50 states”), he doesn’t seem to think there’s anything suspicious about picking up an unknown load of “cargo” at an El Paso tire shop run by tattooed Latinos wielding automatic weapons. When he violates the cardinal rule established in THE TRANSPORTER (2002) by looking at what’s in “the package”, he seems genuinely shocked that it’s a load of uncut cocaine. Really? Seriously? What’s much more believable is his willingness to stay on the job which gives him an actual purpose for living as well as a way to try and make amends with a family that he consistently set aside in favor of his work. Like Robert Redford in this fall’s THE OLD MAN & THE GUN, Eastwood’s character exudes a sort of rakish charm, even when cracking mildly racist jokes, that gives this movie a much less menacing tone than you would expect from any work about Mexican drug cartels as evidenced by the SICARIO films. Arturo Sandoval’s soundtrack has a nostalgic quality about it although in deference to some of the senior citizens in the movie it occasionally sounds like something you’d hear piped in at a Luby’s. There’s not a whole lot of suspense in play here since the inevitability of arrest is present amidst the prevailing theme that crime doesn’t pay even though it occasionally pays really well all during the narrative. Men who are seeking a sort of redemption for their past failings has been a recurring theme in Eastwood’s films and it permeates this one all throughout. While THE MULE never plummets the depth and moral ambiguities of its’ central character, it does manage to tell a good story in an economic fashion that makes it highly watchable.
CRITIC’S GRADE: B-
CLOSING CREDITS: Here are some other excellent/good movies directed by Clint Eastwood – PLAY MISTY FOR ME (1971), HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (1973), THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES (1976), BRONCO BILLY (1980), SUDDEN IMPACT (1983), HEARTBREAK RIDGE (1986), WHITE HUNTER BLACK HEART (1990), UNFORGIVEN (1992)*, THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY (1995), TRUE CRIME (1999), MYSTIC RIVER (2003)**, MILLION DOLLAR BABY (2004)*, FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS (2006), LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA (2006)**, CHANGELING (2008), GRAN TORINO (2008), INVICTUS (2009), HEREAFTER (2010), AMERICAN SNIPER (2014)***, SULLY (2016)
*Academy Award Winner for Best Picture and Best Director and Nominated for Best Actor
**Academy Award Nomination for Best Picture and Best Director
***Academy Award Nomination for Best Picture