The Mule
Director: Clint Eastwood
Stars: Bradley Cooper, Clint Eastwood, Manny Montana, Andy Garcia
Duration: 116mins
Class: 15
KRS Releasing Ltd

Film not reviewed

Venerable and veteran actor/ director/producer (to name but a few) Clint Eastwood goes back to the front of the camera in The Mule. He plays Earl Stone, a man about to hit 90 years of age who has only just begun to realise that what he has sacrificed throughout his life – time with the people he loves – is the one thing worth sacrificing everything else for.

“Earl’s been very unsuccessful within his home life, but at the same time he’s been fooling himself about it, going around expounding to other people on how to interrelate with their own families,” Eastwood remarks about the character.  “Now, when he wants to come back into the fold, it’s hard to do.”

Having failed to live up to such promises as helping pay for his granddaughter’s upcoming wedding, Earl sees money as a means of literally buying back their affection.  If only he had some; having spent decades showering more attention on his day lilies business than on his wife and daughter, the business is nevertheless in trouble, and Earl’s on the verge of losing everything.

The script, by Gran Torino screenwriter Nick Schenk (another Eastwood film), is based on the New York Times magazine article titled The Sinaloa Cartel’s 90-Year-Old Drug Mule. It inspired Schenk to create another memorable role for Eastwood.

I like to think I’m always observing, learning

“The most successful drug mule in the history of the Sinaloa cartel was the least obvious drug mule: a 90-year-old guy who travelled for work,” Schenk states.  “They absolutely loved him.  Wined and dined him, let him have free reign.  So, I started from there.

“I realised Earl was really the flipside of Gran Torino’s Walt Kowalski,” Schenk continues.  “When I researched that story, I met a lot of war veterans and a lot of them seemed to have come back one of two ways: mad at the world, like Walt, or having put it behind them, charming and quick to put others at ease. 

“That was my basis for Earl’s easy nature, his sense of fun, his panache. Of course, all of that was for his friends and co-workers. As his ex-wife observes in the film, everyone else got the fun version of Earl, while she and the family got the guy who could hardly wait to get away.”

As both film-maker and actor, Eastwood appreciated the world Schenk created for Earl. “Nick has a great way to write a character who is always learning something, even if he’s an older guy,” he notes. “Earl keeps his mind open and is interested in the world around him, even if it gets him into trouble.”

Eastwood feels the biggest weight on Earl isn’t the drugs, or the fact that he’s committing a crime.  The guilt he carries is the cargo he can’t seem to unload.  But he tries. As Eastwood explains: “Earl’s in a bad position financially, he needs money or he’ll lose his home and his life’s work. And once he gets a taste of the money, he can’t resist playing Robin Hood a little, doing good for other folks, rationalising his actions.  But he’s on the wrong side of the law, and that proves to be dangerous – both for him and for others – and that worries him.  I liked the idea of this guy with so many physical and emotional obstacles to go through.”

Although boasting a highly successful and eclectic career, in recent years, Eastwood has stepped in front of the camera only a few times, but Earl induced him to do so once again.  “I had read the New York Times article about the real guy who Earl was somewhat based on, and I thought it would be fun to play that age – my age, I should say.  I like to think I’m always observing, learning, and Earl’s like that.  The longer you go, the more you realise you don’t know.  So, you keep going.” And at 88, he shows not sign of slowing down.

Joining Eastwood in the cast are several actors he’s directed before, among them Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Peña and Alison Eastwood, and a few on his long-time wish list, beginning with Dianne Wiest and Andy Garcia.  Taissa Farmiga and Ignacio Serricchio round out the impressive ensemble.

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