After his cinematic train wreck ‘The 15:17 to Paris’, Clint Eastwood is back in the directors chair this year for new crime drama ‘The Mule’. Not only does Eastwood direct but he also stars in the leading role in one of his own films for the first time since ‘Gran Torino’ which was released over a decade ago now. Based on Sam Dolnick’s New York Times article about Leo Sharp, the story follows Earl, a keen horticulturist and war veteran who becomes a drug mule for a Mexican cartel, and yes you did read that right!
‘The Mule’ isn’t quite the sombre and serious crime drama that the film’s promotional materials would have you believe it to be. Instead the film is a random collection of genres and tones that shouldn’t really work together but oddly they do, at least initially. Despite the very obvious family tensions and more serious criminal implications of Earl’s life there is a surprisingly light hearted feel to quite a substantial section of this screenplay. The comedy, whilst unexpected is fairly effective and probably works better than the more emotionally aimed latter half of the film. The screenplay isn’t shy about what it’s trying to say, hammering home its message of putting family first instead of work. It’s somewhat admirable that it keeps this moral so simple and straightforward but by the end of the film it feels overdone and a little too obvious. Some other issues arise with particular plot developments seemingly coming out of nowhere with barely any build up or context. Further and more careful development is required of these moments to make them feel natural but with the film already feeling lengthy there really isn’t any room for a longer running time to allow this.
At 88 years old it’s remarkable to see Eastwood still performing in a leading role such as this. He’s very good, bringing a lot to his character through his comedic ability, similarly to the narrative coming off as the most memorable aspect here. His dramatic acting is to be applauded too but it’s his delivery of his character’s wisecracks that prove most entertaining. His character will be troublesome for some viewers but it feels like an authentic portrayal of a man of Earl’s age and experiences, he’d be sure to ruffle some feathers in real life too. Aside from Eastwood the supporting cast is remarkably star-studded featuring Bradley Cooper, Michael Peña and Taissa Farmiga amongst a whole host of other well known performers. These supporting characters are portrayed well by the cast and their strong screen presence helps the proceedings maintain a good pace even if at times it feels like they could be in completely different films!
So whilst its crime caper style comedy content keeps ‘The Mule’ light and entertaining and with the sheer unbelievable premise for the film contributing to this also complimented by Eastwood’s leading performance the lack of anything deeper than this prevents it from wholly maintaining its audience’s attention. The on going blend of genres eventually takes its toll on the film and with Earl’s character arc and main message reaching completion too soon the remaining drama isn’t strong enough to warrant ‘The Mule’ the rest of its runtime. Ultimately it’s an odd but enjoyable step back in the right direction for Eastwood but one likely to get lost amidst a very crowded awards season.
Written by Hamish Calvert
Rating – 6/10
Question: What is your favourite Clint Eastwood film performance?
(Leave your answers in the comments section below!)
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Thanks to Movie House Cinemas for screening access