Clint Eastwood is 88 years old, and he directed two movies within the calendar year of 2018. One is on my list of the worst films of 2018. The other almost ended up there. I left my screening of The Mule not quite sure what to make of it. In playing another clueless, bigoted war vet that everyone ultimately forgives for his misdeeds by the end, is Eastwood trying to make a subversive comment on how people his age handle issues of race and gender, or is he using this as an excuse to go around and say gross things on a film set? After much thought, I think it’s the latter. After all, I doubt the guy who talked to an empty chair in 2012 has improved his worldview since then.
The Mule follows Earl Stone, a Korean War veteran whose floral business has tanked ever since the internet came along. He’s always put work above his family, and his shrewish ex-wife (Dianne Wiest) and shrill daughter (Alison Eastwood, his real-life daughter) despise him. After they kick him out of a family event, a Mexican stranger convinces him to be a drug mule for a drug cartel. Earl’s money issues disappear overnight and all is well until the mean cartels start rolling into town. Meanwhile, DEA agents (Bradley Cooper and Michael Pena) try to get to the bottom of things.
There are two scenes in The Mule that depict Clint Eastwood having threesomes with prostitutes, one of which is greatly uncomfortable to watch. But that’s not it. Every woman in this film is either a shrew or a literal whore. This film’s view of gender is insulting, but that’s the least of its problems. The film opens with Eastwood looking at the truck driven by one of his gardeners, and telling him “it’s like you’re asking to be deported!” It almost feels like Eastwood knows what he’s doing, and maybe he’s in on the bad message here until a scene in which he stops to help a black family on the side of the road, where you realize he’s getting a little too much pleasure out of playing this racist old man. It’s even more uncomfortable to be in a theater full of older people who are giggling along with him and don’t see that there’s anything weird going on here.
Also, the film’s depiction of the drug cartels is problematic and pedestrian at best. How many times have we seen the narrative about the innocent white character lured into an underworld full of drugs and people speaking in Spanish? This film manages to completely waste Andy Garcia and Michael Pena along the way, and it speaks volumes to say that Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again used Garcia better.
Bradley Cooper tops off a great year poorly with a performance that reminds you of a time before he was a respected leading man. We also have American Horror Story alum Taissa Farmiga as Earl’s granddaughter and Dianne Wiest as his long-suffering ex-wife, and neither is interesting. Alison Eastwood, Clint’s real-life daughter, plays her role with such disdain and dramatic eye-rolls and tension, that you really wonder about the real-life father-daughter relationship.
The Mule is based on a New York Times article about a man named Leo Sharp, and that article is more interesting than this movie. On one level, it’s nice that Clint Eastwood is still working at his age, but on another level, this film pushes his own agenda in a somewhat sinister way, and because of that, I couldn’t possibly recommend it. And also, it’s rather predictable and boring after it sets into its rhythm of plot beats. Eastwood has tarnished his track record recently with films like Sully and The 15:17 to Paris, which take five-minute news stories and stretch them into full-length feature films. But this is somehow worse. It might be time for Clint Eastwood to finally retire.