Combustible Celluloid
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With: Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Peña, Dianne Wiest, Andy Garcia, Alison Eastwood, Taissa Farmiga, Ignacio Serricchio, Loren Dean, Victor Rasuk, Manny Montana, Clifton Collins Jr., Noel Gugliemi, Robert LaSardo, Eugene Cordero
Written by: Nick Schenk, based on an article by Sam Dolnick
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout and brief sexuality/nudity
Running Time: 116
Date: 12/14/2018

The Mule (2018)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Old School 'Mule'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Clint Eastwood directs this drama at the same high level as his best work; his classical sure-footedness overcomes potentially goopy material, and a few politically-incorrect missteps can be forgiven.

In The Mule, Earl Stone (Clint Eastwood) is a 90 year-old horticulturalist who finds his business dwindling with the rise of the Internet. At a wedding party for his granddaughter Ginny (Taissa Farmiga) he is approached by one of the guests about a driving job; Earl has been on the road most of his life and has an impeccable record, so he agrees.

Despite the weird conditions of the job, and the anonymous packages he's transporting, everything goes smoothly, and the money comes rolling in. Before long he discovers that he is actually transporting drugs. With no choice but to continue, he rises through the ranks and eventually is summoned to meet the leader of the cartel (Andy Garcia).

But when his ex-wife (Dianne Wiest) falls ill, he realizes that he has neglected his family too long and risks everything to be with them. Meanwhile, two dogged DEA agents (Bradley Cooper and Michael Peña) are on his trail, in addition to the angry cartel.

Suggested by a New York Times Magazine story, The Mule brings Eastwood back to acting for the first time since Trouble with the Curve, and the first time he has directed himself since Gran Torino. At close to 90 himself, he looks older and frailer than you may remember, but Earl is a perfect role for him. He's a little doddering, more streetwise than smart, but with an endearing twinkle in his eye and a mischievous smile on his lips.

The movie's main theme is that family is more important than work (as well as the evils of technology), and while these are discussed at length, Eastwood gives the movie a flow that seems natural — tulips become a lovely symbol — and not preachy.

The movie has a few moments here and there that feel embarrassing, such as women being objectified or a few culturally insensitive remarks, but they feel more like the whims of an eccentric older man rather than anything malicious. The drug story is given little weight — there's no discussion of lives ruined by them — but nonetheless, involvement with it comes with a price.

Overall, The Mule once again shows that Eastwood is a master filmmaker in the old Hollywood style, in a league with the greats.

Warner Home Video's Blu-ray release comes with a DVD and a digital copy. The video transfer is excellent, though the movie is more craftsmanlike than it is "visually spectacular" (remembering that Eastwood frequently likes rooms in deep shadows), and the audio is also fine. Bonuses include an 11-minute "making of" featurette, with Eastwood himself, and a music video for Toby Keith's "Don't Let the Old Man In." It also includes trailers at startup. Given that Warner Bros. dropped the ball on this one during its theatrical release (not showing it in advance to the press), and even though it was a sizable hit in theaters, let's hope that more Eastwood fans discover this one at home.

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