A Very Old Man With an Enormous Bag of Drugs

Eastwood, as ‘The Mule,’ Still Kicking

Holy crap, people: A major Hollywood studio just produced a drama directed by and starring an 88-year-old man. That’s insane right there, and kind of fantastic, even if it’s a once-bankable multi-Oscar-winning icon like Clint Eastwood. It’s also his second movie this year, for those who remember last February’s modest Team America hit The 15:17 to Paris. So, yes, one of the three stars in my review’s rating is for Clint’s sheer stamina. That said, the other two stars are for a movie that in any other hands would come across as shallow and more than a little offensive.

For anyone who enjoys watching casually racist misunderstandings and hearing slurs like “Taco Wagon,” “Negro,” and “beaner” delivered as generation-gap gag lines, this movie’s for you. Based on the true story of an unassuming codger running drugs for a Mexican cartel, The Mule is a low-key rumination on late-life redemption with fitful delights soured by a tone-deaf “you people” underbelly. It also invokes but doesn’t really explore the intersection of geriatric irrelevance and Caucasian exceptionalism. If you’re an old white man, you’re basically invisible and invincible. Tell me more. Oh, you won’t? OK, then, never mind.

Eastwood plays Earl Stone, a dashing horticulturalist in Peoria who’d rather be snapping up kudos at daylily conventions than attending his daughter’s wedding. “Internet. Who needs it?” he laughs at fellow flower merchants in 2005. Flash-forward 12 years later, and he’s out of business and broke. Because Internet.

THE MULE ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Written by: Nick Schenk
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Peña, Dianne Wiest, Andy Garcia
Running time: 116 min.


His family hates him, his pocket is empty, so he accepts an out-of-the-blue offer from a shady Latino to drive drugs from Texas to Illinois. He hops in his shitty Ford pickup and drives a mysterious bag to a designated drop-off spot. And he gets a thick envelope of cash. Soon enough, he’s upgraded his wheels to a Lincoln Mark LT and is trafficking up to 100 kilos of cocaine a month.

In return, he can revive a shuttered local chapter of the VFW, pay for his granddaughter’s education, and start to win back the love of his long-suffering ex-wife Mary (Dianne Wiest). Everybody’s happy, especially druglord Laton (Andy Garcia), who shoots clay pigeons with a gold shotgun and invites Earl south of the border to reward him with lots of bikini’ed guapitas and a big-breasted threesome.

Except the Feds are on his trail, including DEA agents Bradley Cooper and Michael Peña. When the cartel turns vicious, the walls start closing in on Earl. And he’s going to need more than that handy tube of Ben-Gay to throw everyone off his scent.

How does this end? With Earl’s steely-eyed acceptance of the hand that fate dealt him. The Mule is a stubborn old movie, defiant in its attitudes, stiff-spined in its old-fashioned masculine tropes, but soft-hearted at its core. It’s a sweet story, knuckle-headed at times, even detrimentally unexamined, but admirably simple all the same.

So I’ll ask you again, do you feel lucky?

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Stephen Garrett

Stephen Garrett is the former film editor of 'Time Out New York’ and has written about the movie industry for more than 20 years. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer, Garrett is also the founder of Jump Cut, a marketing company that creates trailers and posters for independent, foreign-language, and documentary films.

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