Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Written by: Nick Schenk
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Peña, Dianne Wiest, Andy Garcia
Released: January 24, 2019
Grade: B

The Mule

If you’re considered a “senior citizen”, the Queensland Health website has a few suggestions in staying active so to maintain your strength, mobility and independence for as long as possible.  You can try walking, Tai Chi, group exercises, aqua aerobics, gardening, dancing, lawn bowls or Masters sports.  There are also plenty of local councils who run free activities specifically for seniors.

If none of that tickles your fancy and you’re looking to be more adventurous, you can look to Hollywood for inspiration and turn to a life of crime.  Going in Style (released in 2017) was a fictional comedy about three 70-something year old guys who orchestrated a bank heist to fund their retirement.  The Old Man and the Gun (released in 2018) was based on actual events and followed a polite, elderly man (Robert Redford) who was robbing multiple banks up to the age of 78.

The Mule, directed by two-time Oscar winner Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby) is the latest entrant in this growing, specialised genre.  The names have been changed in the film but it’s based on a true story that went viral thanks to a 2014 article from journalist Sam Dolnick in The New York Times.  An 87-year-old man from Indiana was making big money while transporting drugs across the United States for a Mexican drug cartel.  He was considered to be the oldest drug mule in the world.

These are serious crimes but it’s hard not to smile as Earl Stone (Eastwood) goes about his business.  He doesn’t even know how to use a mobile phone or send a text message!  This makes him the butt of everyone’s jokes at the start but it is fun to watch the power shift as Earl takes on bigger shipments and becomes an essential, untouchable member of the cartel.

There are several scenes where the film switches perspective and we follow a Drug Enforcement Administration agent (Cooper) who is trying to “make a big splash” and arrest a high-profile drug mule.  He gets close but the sly, smooth talking Earl is able to evade capture.  Why would anyone suspect an octogenarian, driving alone on the freeway, of carrying 200 pounds of cocaine in the back of his pickup truck?

The Mule marks the first acting gig for 88-year-old Clint Eastwood since Trouble with the Curve (2012).  He hasn’t given any formal notification of retirement but it’s likely to be one of the last times we see Eastwood on screen and in the director’s chair.  He’s had no trouble assembling a strong cast with Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Peña, Dianne Wiest and Andy Garcia all happy to take supporting roles despite some of the characters being underdeveloped and relatively insignificant (especially Fishburne and Garcia).

It’s an interesting story but the screenplay of Nick Schenk (Gran Torino, The Judge) is heavy-handed in places.  To ensure audiences like Earl’s character, the film is quick to illustrate the many “good” things he spends his ill-earned money on – his overdue mortgage payments, his granddaughter’s wedding and a social club for Vietnam veterans.  When he starts making BIG money, the film is surprisingly silent as to where it’s all going.  There’s also a strong focus on his efforts to reconcile with his ex-wife (Weist) and daughter (played by Eastwood’s real-life daughter, Alison) without delving too deeply into his chequered past.

The Mule is too simple in places but it’s still a likeable crowd pleaser that showcases a great true story.