Ah, The Mule, a seemingly return to form for Clint Eastwood— who is not only back at the director’s chair, but also in front of the camera. Eastwood hasn’t acted since 2012’s Trouble with the Curve (the American Sniper cameo doesn’t count), and while The Mule revisits Eastwood’s favorite western themes of betrayal, forgiveness and morality, it’s sad to say that he fails to deliver the goods (although his drug mule character does, repeatedly). What seems to have gone haywire in The Mule, and will Eastwood ever churn out an instant classic like Million Dollar Baby or The Bridges of Madison County? We make some guesses:
THE PACE IS AT AN ALL-TIME SLOW, EVEN FOR CLINT EASTWOOD
We have no qualms with slow cinema, as Eastwood isn’t known for pulse-pounding thrill-a-minute bangers. Gran Torino took its sweet time developing the characters, and J. Edgar, the mixed bag that it is, leveraged Leonardo DiCaprio’s brutal honesty as J. Edgar Hoover. The Mule feels like it could have fared better as a miniseries, because when things started to get interesting, Eastwood ends his movie. So what the hell did we just watch, 100 minutes of introduction?
AN ANNOYING ANTIHERO, BUT WITH A HIDDEN POLITICAL BIAS
Eastwood’s Earl Stone in The Mule is no different from Grant Torino’s Walt Kowalski, or Blood Work’s Terry McCaleb, or if we have to go for the stretch, Harry Calahan from his Dirty Harry movies— they’re all cynical, hard-boiled bastards. Stone, however, is a victim of the system, in an America seemingly controlled by Mexican cartels. By playing victim, Eastwood shifts the blame into other people, but never himself. News flash, big corporation and the clueless tool running the country are causing the shit storm, not immigrants.
WEAK WOMEN CHARACTERS
Eastwood is clearly a macho filmmaker (however you might want to interpret that term), but the ones people often remember him for have strong female characters— Million Dollar Baby, Bridges of Madison County, and even Mystic River, if only for that last scene of Marcia Gay Harden frantically searching for her missing husband. The Mule exploits and wastes the talents of Dianne Wiest, a beloved and talented actress (I Am Sam, Edward Scissorhands) by making her a placeholder— the nagging (ex) wife who eventually dies at the end.
WHAT IS BRADLEY COOPER EVEN DOING HERE?
Oh hey Bradley, we didn’t see you there. In a role that could have been played by anyone, Cooper is a DEA agent on the trail of the cartels, who crosses paths with Eastwood’s Stone, albeit too late in the movie. The diner scene where both characters meet for the first time is gripping though. And yes, that’s it.
So that’s where Jackson Maine was, that’s why Ally performed “Shallow” alone (bad joke, we’re going to stop now).
THE BIGGEST WTF
The only thing more criminal than The Mule’s sluggish pace is the glaring plot hole somewhere in the middle, where Earl Stone decides to go off the grid to tend to his ill ex-wife, and the bad guys can’t seem to find him. What happened to “we have eyes everywhere?” Also, the cartel was the one who recruited Earl, so why does no one know where he went?
IS EASTWOOD MAKING THE SAME FILMS OVER AND OVER?
The same can be said of Hong Sang-soo, but hey, at least Hong still has Isabelle Huppert, and Huppert never disappoints (maybe Eastwood should cast Isabelle Huppert next?) Before The Mule, Eastwood made the true-to-life 15:17 to Paris, a film nobody watched. Then there’s that lukewarm Sully (it was okay, at best) and Trouble with the Curve, which is not among the top five films you will think of when you think of Amy Adams. The Mule was a chore to sit through, with the sluggishness, poor plotting and the political bias combined. Maybe Meryl Streep was right to have never gotten out of the car.
SIN OF OMISSION
There were other interesting elements about Leo Sharp, the real-life basis for Eastwood’s character in the movie. For example, cartel henchmen would often escort or meet up with Sharp because of his failing memory (the film presents the escorts more as a safeguard that the mule wouldn’t double cross them). Just imagine Eastwood driving up to wrong locations while at risk of getting caught, or killed? Or the fact that the cartel threatened to kill Sharp’s family in real life? All of Stone’s drama is internal, and often it’s for the worse.
MAYBE A RETURN TO WESTERN, MR. EASTWOOD?
Western, as in revolvers and saddles and dirt. Eastwood hasn’t made a Spaghetti Western in a long time (and maybe he doesn’t want to anymore), but it would be interesting to see him revisit the genre that made him very famous, in the vein perhaps of Unforgiven meets The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
All snaps are from the trailer.
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