(director: Clint Eastwood; screenwriters: Nick Schenk, inspired by the New York Times Magazine article “The Sinaloa Cartel’s 90-Year-Old Drug Mule” by Sam Dolnick; cinematographer: Yves Belanger; editor: Joel Cox; music: Arturo Sandoval; cast: Clint Eastwood (Earl Stone), Taissa Farmiga (Ginny), Bradley Cooper (Colin Bate), Lawrence Fishburne (DEA Special Agent-head of the Chicago bureau), Michael Pena (DEA agent Trevino), Dianne Wiest (Mary), Ignacio Serricchio (Julio), Andy Garcia (Laton), Alison Eastwood (Iris), Eugene Cordero (Luis Rocha), Victor Rasuk (Rico), Ray Hernandez (Illinois State Trooper), Manny Montana (Axl), Noel Gugliemi (Bald Rob); Runtime: 116; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Clint Eastwood, Tim Moore, Kristina Rivera, Jessica Meier, Dan Friedkin, Bradley Thomas; Warner Bros; 2018)

“It’s a slight film with no discernible view on drugs.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The 88-year-old Clint Eastwood (“Gran Torino”/”Mystic River”) directs and stars in the true story of 90-year-old Earl Stone (Clint Eastwood), a character based on the late Leo Sharp, who in his senior years became a drug mule. It’s one of Eastwood’s lesser films, that has little to offer than having Clint in it. Besides being willfully politically-incorrect to get in a few vapid racial jokes about Mexicans called “beaners” and a black couple addressed by our anti-hero as Negroes, the film is banal, offensive and clunky. The narrative is too glib for the low-key thriller it pretends to be, as it’s seemingly more interested in its wise-guy one-liners than about the bad Mexicans running the drug cartel in the States.

Writer Nick Schenk’s screenplay (he wrote Gran Torino) is inspired by the 2014 New York Times Magazine article “The Sinaloa Cartel’s 90-Year-Old Drug Mule” by Sam Dolnick, which takes us down a conventional drug-trafficking road and gives us an old-fashioned Hollywood styled film.

The mild-mannered Stone is a former Korean War vet who is divorced and a prize-winning day lilies horticulturist from Peoria, Illinois, who is estranged from his family because of his frequent absences due to work.

The dapper Earl misses his daughter’s (Alison Eastman, Clint’s own daughter) wedding to be at a flower convention and incurs her wrath.

Some years later he is facing a business foreclosure due to competition from the Internet and loss of his home. He thereby lives in his rundown pickup truck. After the unwanted dad visits his granddaughter Ginny (Taissa Farmiga), before her wedding, the only family member who still talks to him, his daughter gives him the boot and as he leaves the house an acquaintance of Ginny (Victor Rasuk) offers him a phone number to call about a high-paying job to be just a driver delivering a cargo
. Earl takes the job without asking questions and not realizing he will be driving cocaine for a Mexican drug cartel from Chicago to El Paso. The crotchety old man, a cautious driver (no traffic tickets) who will draw no police attention on the road, sees this as a good opportunity to get back on his feet. He will use the drug mule money to pay for the wedding and education of his granddaughter Ginny and donate some of his later earnings to other charity projects (like helping his hangout VFW hall to reopen).

After the successful first-run Earl knows the score but likes the money too much to quit, so he continues to deliver cocaine packages with more and more value until making some 12 runs. This impresses the Mexican cartel boss (Andy Garcia), who brings him to his lavish estate in Mexico to reward him with buxom women to have sex with. Meanwhile an ambitious Chicago-based DEA field agent, Bates (Bradley Cooper), and his partner (Michael Pena) squeeze a cartel member (Eugene Cordero) to be a snitch. While making a run where he’s closely watched by his handlers, Earl loses his dangerous handlers and also the DEA agents.They are there on a tip from their snitch–that he’s returning home to visit his dying estranged ex-wife Mary (Dianne Wiest). The risky move has both the DEA agents who want to arrest him and the handlers who want to kill him, both in hot pursuit.

The film’s less than scintillating theme is that family comes first and work second, and that Earl has some amends to make to his family for choosing work over family before reuniting with them.

The aging and now frail Eastwood manages to get a few scenes that seem to work right, but too many that are awkward. It has some of the natural flow you expect in one of his films, but there’s too much doddering in the narrative to keep you attentive throughout.

It’s a slight film with no discernible view on drugs, as it stays away from telling of the dangers of drugs and avoids even mentioning that someone who chooses to work for the cartel is not someone we should admire. In desperation Eastwood tries to put a happy face on itsĀ  ‘every-man’ protagonist turned criminal, which seems whack. But if you’re a fan of Eastwood you should find enough to like about it, on the other hand others might not be so forgiven.

Clint Eastwood in The Mule (2018)

REVIEWED ON 12/1/2018       GRADE: C+