This film is completely missable unless we learn that it is Mr. Eastwood’s last movie.
To begin with, there is no way to save a film if the lead character is so despicable that he is left with no redeeming qualities of any kind. Such is the case with The Mule, where the 88-year-old Clint Eastwood plays a 90-year-old drug courier for a Mexican cartel.
Eastwood’s Stone is an aging horticulturalist who has made a living developing various strains of daylilies. When he becomes financially destitute, he ends up taking what he thinks is a temporary job picking up “packages” in one section of Texas and dropping it off at another location. When he discovers the handsome cash payment for his services, he continues as a drug runner on a journey that you know will lead to disaster.
Quite honestly, I found this theme to be quite appealing, and it reminded me of Robert Redford’s recent role as an aging bank robber in The Old Man & the Gun. Redford is 82 and a movie fan like me was terribly intrigued at watching historic actors play challenging roles in their twilight years.
However, Redford and Eastwood’s characters had something in common, and that was the sad fact that they had decided to ignore their ex-wives and children for completely selfish reasons. Unfortunately, while Redford maintained a bit of charm, Eastwood’s Stone had none.
To give you some idea of the appalling nature of Stone’s character, consider the fact that he ignored the urging of his ex-wife Mary (Dianne Weist) to attend his granddaughter’s wedding, choosing to spend it in a bar getting drunk while dancing with young women. When you learn that Stone had also missed his daughter’s wedding, it became impossible to care about a movie where you felt no empathy for the lead character.
Let me also say that the film wasn’t helped by the fact that Eastwood spent most of his time getting smashed and carousing with scantily clad women whenever possible. That included taking prostitutes back to his motel room, and it became hard to care if this sad human being lived or died.
On top of that, the movie also wasn’t helped by some plastic performances from Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburn, Michael Peña and Andy Garcia. Cooper and Fishburn played self-centered DEA agents who only cared about making an arrest that will further their careers. Peña served as Cooper’s driver, and this talented actor was able to bring nothing of meaning to his role. Finally, Mr. Garcia played the head of the drug cartel and he is constantly surrounded by a bevy of semi-naked women that you know will appeal to Eastwood when they finally meet.
Ironically, the only meaningful performances in the entire film came from Alison Eastwood, Robert LaSardo and Ignacio Serricchio. Ms. Eastwood, Eastwood’s actual daughter, plays his adult child who has absolutely no use for her father. Both Mr. LaSardo and Serricchio give compelling performances as two hitmen for the cartel who have to decide whether to let their old drug runner live or die.
My disappointment with this film flowed from the fact that I wanted it to mirror John Wayne’s last film The Shootist (1976). Wayne was dying of cancer at the time and he decided to go out with a memorable bang in both a film and real life. He was helped by his co-stars, Lauren Bacall and Ron Howard.
However, despite Eastwood’s illustrious career where his many great movies made us forget his weaker ones, this film had no bang for the bucks that you forked over for admission. The only thing that saved it was a soft ending where an old man was able to find some meaning in life while re-earning the respect of his loved ones. Despite the fact that Mr. Eastwood seemed pretty spry for an 88-year-old man, that would be a fitting way to remember him, if he, like Redford, chooses to ride off into the sunset.
One final thought, Redford, Eastwood and Sylvester Stallone in Creed II resemble men who only become likeable when they are eligible for Medicare. In that sense, all three remijnd me of the lyrics from Harry F. Chapin’s great song “Cats in the Cradle”.
“And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man on the moon.
‘When you comin’ home?’
‘Son, I don’t know when.
We’ll get together then.
You know we’ll have a good time then.’”