Cinematic workhorse Clint Eastwood stars and directs as Earl, a broke horticulturalist who becomes a big-time drugs mule to make ends meet. Let’s call it Breaking Grandad.
Alongside his foray into the world of the Cartel, he tries to turf things over with his family including his estranged daughter (real-life daughter Alison Eastwood) and soon-to-be-married granddaughter (Taissa Farmiga), as he attempts to compensate for decades of prioritising his greens over his flesh and blood.
It’s very similar to Robert Redford’s The Old Man and the Gun, but at 88 years of age Eastwood makes 82-year-old Redford look like the young man and the gun. Both share the story of an older gentleman getting involved in criminal activity, but the films from the two former cowboys differ in tone and style.
Where Redford’s film was a breezy romance, Eastwood’s is a cat and mouse crime caper. He avoids the cutesy charms of some octogenarian crime films, and since he’s both director and lead actor he’s clearly as unwilling to make concessions to old age off screen as on.
While always charismatic, Eastwood has undoubtedly improved with age, bringing a level of authenticity to his recent characters he didn’t always achieve with his monotonous younger efforts, and what he might have lost in sex appeal he’s gained in understanding of character. It helps that Nick Schenk’s script is sharp enough to earn a few additions to the Clint Eastwood quotes compilation. And there’s even a running joke about him being mistaken for the famously nice Jimmy Stewart.
Earl has the same “old guy in the modern world” vibe as Walt, the character he played in Grand Torino, complete with racial insensitivity (his opening line, to a Hispanic man, is “The way you’re driving round in this taco wagon you’d think you want to be deported”). But this is sort of the point. He’s out of touch and insensitive, but good at heart, frequently willing to see past people’s ethnicity and help people regardless of what they look like.
The relationship he has with his family is not always convincing, and the film is the inferior of Gran Torino. There are a couple of plot points which don’t make complete sense or are difficult to take seriously, and Eastwood’s obvious interest in female derrieres does nothing to improve the film. But The Mule is an undeniably enjoyable ride which avoids the impotence its name suggests, and is the best thing Eastwood has done since he talked to that chair.