The Mule

Dec 14, 2018

Eastwood is very much alive in this entertaining little thriller.

The Mule

Grade: B

Director: Clint Eastwood (Gran Torino)

Screenplay: Sam Dolnick, Nick Schenk (The Judge)

Cast: Eastwood (Unforgiven), Bradley Cooper (A Star is Born)

Rating: R

Runtime:  1 hr 56 min

By: John DeSando

“How dull it is to pause, to make an end,

To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!

As tho' to breathe were life.” Tennyson, Ulysses

Although The Mule is riddled with cliché and improbability, you’d not be an ass to see it. Why? Because Clint Eastwood stars and directs in a small thriller, so bold and silly as to have Andy Garcia a drug king and Eastwood’s 90-year-old horticulturist  Earl dispatch two heavy-duty thugs. But the absurdity is not what this semi-sentimental family cum cartel caper affecting.

Earl is old as the hills and looks it; so much for romanticizing this Hollywood icon. Yet, his age and seeming enfeeblement add a gravity, along with the weight of the persona Eastwood brings after decades in front and behind the camera. When Earl speaks, it’s not in flowery language, even though flowers are a prominent motif, but in experience-speak, making us aware that both character and director/star have little time left to mince words. He’s a joy to watch as his Earl takes to being a drug mule to get money.

The theme of dedication to family occurs in almost too heavy a motif especially as Earl converses with DEA agent Colin Bates (Bradley Cooper). Perhaps like Eastwood’s many hours of golf at Pebble Beach and maybe too few at Malpaso Ranch, Earl also is painfully aware that he has forsaken family, in his case for his beloved flowers.

He’s a late bloomer when it comes to reconciling with family for his absences, but come back he does. That return, the goal of the film, is couched in reality, so writers Sam Dolnick and Nick Schenk satisfy us with a slice of comeuppance and sentimentality not far from the way things ought to be.

I hope Eastwood doesn’t do an Earl or for that matter a Candide, and go back to the flowers. The Mule shows him still to have it in front and back of the camera. Otherwise, he’d be truly “unforgiven” for forsaking his talents to old age:

“Death closes all: but something ere the end,

Some work of noble note, may yet be done . . . .” Ulysses

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at