Go ahead. Make my day. But slowly. Because I’m old.
BQB here with a review of Clint Eastwood’s “The Mule.” (SPOILERS).
I must admit, 3.5 readers, when I first saw the trailer for this movie, I assumed it would be a ripoff of “Breaking Bad.” Similar to Bryan Cranston’s Walter White, Clint’s Earl Stone is presented in the preview as an old man who has lived a shitty life and now, with little to lose in his declining years, decides to say, “Fuck it” and get into the drug game to make some fast, sweet, sticky cash, all the danger be damned.
Despite the similarities, Earl is his own man. He’s super old and though he has no diagnosed terminal illness, he’s in his nineties and therefore likely to croak if a cool breeze hits him the wrong way. He’s no mastermind genius like Walter. He’s just an old man who lost his job and finds another one.
Though I’m one of Clint’s biggest fans, I have to admit the premise is thinner than his present day hair and it saddens me as with some tweaks to the haphazard plot, it could have been as lush as his 1970s “Dirty Harry” mane.
Honestly, the first twenty minutes of the film feel less like an Eastwood movie of old and instead, more like a glorified Lifetime Channel for Women movie, you know, the one that your Grandma watches to feel hip and young without having to be bogged down with anything that makes sense.
Earl is a horticulturalist. For many years, he chose the road over his own family, missing birthdays, graduations, weddings, funerals, anniversaries and so on to drive across America in his old, beaten up pick-up truck just so he could put his latest rare flower on display and socialize with his fellow green thumbs.
I know. WTF, right? Not to give away a spoiler, but in the first few minutes, Earl, already having been divorced from wife, Mary (Dianne West), is finally ostracized from the family for good when he chooses yet another flower show over the wedding of his daughter, Iris (played by Clint’s real life daughter, Alison.)
SPOILER ALERT (in fact, spoilers abound in this review so look away): As I watched Clint at the flower show, buying drinks for his flower growing friends, a sad look on his face like he knew he was doing wrong for picking horticulture over his child, I called bullshit. Just absolute bullshit.
But then I thought about it. The man needs a reason why he was estranged from his family. And I suppose if he’d been a workaholic stockbroker or a lawyer or businessman, that would have been already done before, not to mention, he’d have no need to do illegal deeds for money.
FYI that’s how he becomes a mule. Oddly enough, though his granddaughter, Ginny (Taissa Farmiga, sister of Vera) throws a pre-wedding party. Clint attends, is kicked out by mom and grandma. Though granddaughter still loves him and shows no signs other than that she is a solid, upstanding young woman, for some reason that can only be describes as bad writing, there’s a shady drug cartel associate in the wedding party who sees Earl is down on his luck after his flower farm is foreclosed on and introduces him into the world of mulery.
At this point, I start to get it. You have to bend over backwards to get it. The movie’s writing style starts out as “tell, don’t show” with characters dumping key plot points in dialogue and eventually moves to “Stand on your head and twist around three times to get it.”
You see, it was never about the flower shows. Earl just sucked as a human. He was selfish. No, he wasn’t out cheating on his wife or anything like that. He was just stuck in his own head. He loved driving in his truck. He loved meeting and talking to people. He loved going to parties and having fun and being the center of attention in his little flower world. He lacked the emotional capacity to handle it when life got real, to not be around a wife and kid with needs and feelings. He regrets not being a good dad and husband, but lacked the fortitude to be one.
Muling is his second chance to renew that cross-country traveling lifestyle. He meets “the boys” i.e. oddly kind and chatty drug cartel chop shop operators who joke around and talk Earl’s ear off as they stuff his new and improved truck (a Lincoln that is the real star of the movie) full of cocaine. He then drives off into adventure, stopping at roadside stops to meet new, interesting folks, often risking blowing the whole operation just for the chance to make a new friend.
Alas, the job starts to suck when the stakes get higher and higher. You ever have a job that started out great and then one day, you get a new boss and you’re told you’re being watched and the slightest fuck-up will be punished with extreme prejudice? Yes, another spoiler but suffice to say, eventually being a mule stops being fun when oddly kind drug cartel boss Andy Garcia is taken out in a coup and replaced by hardasses who have no patience for Earl’s desire to stop along his route to help strangers with flat tires or to find the world’s best pulled pork sandwich.
SJWs and the politically incorrect alike will find reasons to cheer, maybe even come together. Earl openly tells off-color jokes and uses centuries old slurs in routine conversation. You’re torn between being grossed out and wondering if maybe an old man who doesn’t know any better really needs to kicked completely out of society if he truly didn’t mean any harm and didn’t understand how times have changed.
Meanwhile, Earl takes full advantage of his elderly white privilege, moving mass quantities of Columbian nose candy to and fro with reckless abandon, sent merrily on his way by unsuspecting cops who simply assume they’re in the presence of a doddering old fart while the aforementioned cops then immediately turn around and run Earl’s younger Hispanic associates up the river if they so much as make a funny look.
Bradley Cooper and Lawrence Fishburne round out a star studded cast, but honestly, I can’t say it enough. The writing blows goats and really, the only reason to stick through it is to watch an old man down on his luck suddenly fall into a world where he can make mad cash, bang hot hookers, and not give a shit about jail or STDs because fuck it, he’s 90. Not gonna lie. It wouldn’t surprise me if Clint just slapped this flick together just so he could charge off scenes with hot young babes on the studio’s dime.
STATUS: Shelf-worthy, only because it’s Clint. At times, you see a little glint in Clint’s eye, such that you can just tell if it weren’t for his tired old body, the Clintster would be tearing shit up in this strange new world. It makes some valid points. A running joke is that Earl has to constantly fix broken things because all the young people are too busy getting on their smart phones, looking up how to fix the broken things instead of just trying to actually do it. Point taken. People used to get out and live life. Now we’re living life through a screen. The writing is epically lame. Plot holes the size of Earl’s truck that you’d never put up with. If you can suspend disbelief long enough, it’s nice to see Clint have fun.
WOW! A total sales worthy review and I hope you submitted to someone who’d pay. That was excellent. So I get it, the script sucks. But, hey, it’s Clint, and while those of us who were around in his younger years still grieve the passing of that Clint, we’re cheering that even this Clint, the old one, can still do it and have fun. Bravo! Spoilers? Nah, just loved the whole thing.
Thanks. It’s a shame because I think with a couple tweaks it could have been great, maybe Oscar potential. At first I thought the “I gave up my family to go to flower conventions” angle was lame, but after awhile I got what they were going for. So after I forgave them for that, they have this ending (SPOILER!) where a powerful criminal organization isn’t able to find him for weeks. Yeah, sorry, if you have the drug cartel’s millions and you go incommunicado, they’re probably going to show up at your ex-wife’s house to see if you’re there. They aren’t just going to run around for weeks like, “OMG where’d he go?”