The Mule

THE MULE,  US, 2018.  Starring Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Andy Garcia, Dianne Wiest, Michael Peña, Laurence Fishburne, Clifton Collins Jr, Ignacio Serricchio, Taissa Farmiga, Alison Eastwood. Directed by Clint Eastwood. 116 minutes, Rated M (Coarse language and nudity).

After what might have seemed a grand finale to his acting career in Gran Torino, Clint Eastwood also acted as a coach in Trouble with the Curve. However, with The Mule, he has added another grand finale. Of course, he continues directing – an extraordinary number of fine films over the last 20 years, the Iwo Jima films, the afterlife in Hereafter, race relationships and football in Invictus, the musical Jersey boys…

And, here he is in 2018, acting and directing as he turned 88.

The film opens and closes with beautiful shots of exotic flowers. Eastwood plays Earl Stone, a horticulturist who loves flowers – much more than his wife and daughter. In fact, he prefers to be with the flowers, going to conventions and winning prizes, drinking with his buddies, neglecting to go to his daughter’s wedding. She refuses to speak to him. His wife loved him but is exasperated. The two women are played by Alison Eastwood, Clint’s real-life daughter (raising curious questions in the audience about his relationship with her over the decades) and Dianne Wiest as his wife.

Just as Clint growled audibly at his granddaughter in Gran Torino using her mobile phone in church, he is upset here by the Internet which has deprived him of outlets for selling his flowers personally. He growls about people always on their phones but, in his new job, has to have a phone and learn to text – and even has a lesson or two.

So, what is an old guy a 90, Korean War veteran, deprived of his outlet with the flowers, to do to earn a dollar or two, even as the banks foreclose on his house? An enterprising young Latino chats to him at his granddaughter’s engagement party (he did go because he likes her). He is given a card, takes his battered old truck to a rendezvous with some very suspicious-looking types with guns and finds that all has to do is drive his truck to a hotel, leave the luggage that has been put in the back, return to the truck and find his payment. And, quite some payment it is, enabling him to pay for his granddaughter’s education as well as the refurbishment of an old club.

And the contents, drugs. He is a 90-year-old Mule, quite conscious of what he is doing, enjoying the drive, the stop offs, even flying down to the hacienda of the leader of the drug cartel (Andy Garcia). However, one of the underlings (Ignacio Sericchio) finds Earl’s lack of discipline irritating, becomes something of a chaperone, but comes to admire the old man who uses his wits to ward off a curious policeman when they stop at a diner.

So, how will it end?

The screenplay provides a look at the DEA in action, overall official played by Laurence Fishburne, two agents in the field, Bradley Cooper (would worked with Clint Eastwood in American Sniper) and Michael Peña. It is interesting to see the tactics they use, surveillance, listening into phones, car pursuits, helicopter pursuit…

One of the keys to the resolution of the film is that the granddaughter phones Earl to tell him that his wife is dying. He puts her off because he is on a trip but then decides to break free of the supervisors and spend time with his wife and attend her funeral.

The DEA narrows its surveillance, and…

The thing with the grand finale of The Mule is that it is not heroic, self-sacrificing, in the way that Gran Torino was, a dramatic, heroic and to a life. Here, Earl lives on, experiencing some reconciliation with his family, willing to answer for his actions, an old man experiencing some kind of redemption. So, if Clint does act in another film, it will be a postscript to his two career finales, Gran Torino hero, The Mule Everyman.

Roadshow.                                          Released January 24th.

Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.