Director and icon Clint Eastwood returns, at 88 years old, to an acting and directing double-duty with The Mule, a mostly successful film based on the true story of a 90-year-old Korean war vet who became a mule for a Mexican drug cartel.
Eastwood plays Earl, a man who pursued his horticulture career with a passion that came at the expense of his family (his ex-wife is played by Dianne Weist and his daughter is played by his actual daughter Alison). By chance, an acquaintance learns that Earl has fallen on hard times financially and recruits him to be a drug mule. Earl’s age and spotless driving record help him fly under the radar of police and DEA agents (led by Bradley Cooper and Michael Pena).
There are a few clumsy scenes here and there, but the movie works as a tense character study of a man who charms most of the people he meets, but fails the people who love him the most. Eastwood is as charismatic as ever, but he doesn’t let his charisma blur his character’s moral failings. In doing so, The Mule becomes a moving portrait of a man at the end of his life who decides he will finally accept responsibility for the choices he has made and the pain he has caused.
Within Eastwood’s recent directorial filmography, The Mule is significantly better than The 15:17 to Paris and not quite as good as Sully. But most importantly, Eastwood is still out there making movies for grown-ups. Hopefully, he’ll be like the Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira and still be making them when he’s over 100 years old.