Review – The Mule (2018)

” Yeah, next time you see me, I’ll be texting my brains out!”
– Earl Stone

Regarding the list of films I typically stay away from as a general rule, anything with Clint Eastwood is usually found among that list. That’s not to say I have anything against the man. I believe him to be an extremely talented actor that deserves the utmost respect. I just don’t fit into any of the demographics found in his typical target audience. That’s when The Mule popped up. I would say this movie still falls outside of my specific demographic, but the previews did something specific to gather enough of my interest to watch the film.

For the most part, there’s a lot of empty space in this film that feels rather filler and repetitive. Strangely enough, some of that repetitive nature in the film feels specifically like a director’s input for theme and feel. That being said, as unique as that can be, it hurts the narrative structure in the flick as a whole – as most of the movie feels as if it’s not really going anywhere. Not surprising, given how this film was based upon a true story – even though everyone’s names were changed for some reason unbeknownst to me. Thing is, Clint Eastwood has a way with directing his films that makes a technically mundane film feel instantly nostalgic, and the same can be said here. His portrayal of this universally lovable senior citizen shines a different light on the Mexican Cartel in relation to the DEA officers. In short: it’s not what you expect, but you welcome it anyway – but the film isn’t without its flaws.

Eastwood stars as Earl Stone, a man in his 80s who is broke, alone, and facing foreclosure of his business when he is offered a job that simply requires him to drive. Easy enough, but, unbeknownst to Earl, he’s just signed on as a drug courier for a Mexican cartel. He does well—so well, in fact, that his cargo increases exponentially, and Earl is assigned a handler. But he isn’t the only one keeping tabs on Earl; the mysterious new drug mule has also hit the radar of hard-charging DEA agent Colin Bates. And even as his money problems become a thing of the past, Earl’s past mistakes start to weigh heavily on him, and it’s uncertain if he’ll have time to right those wrongs before law enforcement, or the cartel’s enforcers, catch up to him.

Warner Bros.

PEOPLE – 13/20 (65%)

Acting – 2/4 | Characters – 3/4 | Casting – 3/4 | Importance – 2/4 | Chemistry – 3/4

It’s without question that a majority of people went to see the movie because it’s Clint Eastwood. Not only that, but it’s Clint Eastwood at 90. That’s impressive all on its own, but don’t forget, his role is pretty unique. While I was watching this film, I bought into his role and didn’t just see it as Clint Eastwood. I saw his character, which is probably the most important thing you can say about any role. I can’t exactly say that about any other character, but his was standout. Now, even though a lot of acting had to be pushed into a role that’s ultimately convincing, I saw most of the acting as stagnant. Meaning there was no real range. Each character more or less acted the same throughout the film, so technically, I wasn’t impressed there. The most important takeaway is that Clint Eastwood killed it. His character stood out, him cast in the role was standout, and his natural chemistry with everyone around him carried this film in ways that honestly impressed me, but everyone else literally blended in together for me.

WRITING – 4/10 (40%)

Dialogue – 1/2 | Balance – 1/2 | Story Depth – 0/2 | Originality – 1/2 | Interesting – 1/2

Ruh-Roh. Houston, we have a problem. What in tarnation happened in the writing department? I wouldn’t necessarily call anything BAD here as I would say maybe mediocre and clear missed opportunities. You have three main character groups. You have Clint Eastwood by himself, you have the Cartel, and you have the DEA. Every group blends together instead of being a well-oiled machine where every piece and part comes together in a clever way. You know nothing about most of these characters, which is just weak writing. Nobody really has a goal. Eastwood started out with one, because he had financial woes, but that problem is resolved in the first twenty or so minutes. From there on out, he’s just a greedy geezer that does it because why not? Money is money. Lazy, lazy writing. I can’t really say anything really seems very deep or meaningful, it’s not entirely original, maybe a a little bit in tone, but yeah. The only good thing I can really say here is I was interested enough in watching the movie. That interest kind of dwindled down here and there while watching, but it kept coming back….so….there’s that!

BTS – 7/10 (70%)

Visuals – 1/2 | Cinematography – 2/2 | Editing – 1/2 | Advertising – 2/2 | Music & Sound – 1/2

Behind-the-scenes was mostly decent. There were areas that could’ve clearly been handled better, but I’d say because the film mostly feels instantly nostalgic in a way, things were handled pretty well here. I think the visuals were pretty standard in the long run. Nothing impressed me graphically speaking, nothing about the production design, costume, makeup, visual or practical. I think it does gain a good amount of strength through the cinematography, though. A good sense of the theme and feel is found through the camera lens, so that gets full points. Editing is rather standard from what I could distinguish, so that’ll get half points. It was as-advertised, and the music and sound was just find and dandy for helping the film feel as it should, nothing more.

NARRATIVE ARC – 9/10 (90%)

Introduction – 2/2 | Inciting Incident – 2/2 | Obstacles – 1/2 | Climax – 2/2 | Resolution – 2/2

If you follow any of my reviews, you’ll see a pattern and connection between the writing and narrative arc – and that has to do with the balance. If this movie has characters that don’t have a goal they are shooting for with a plan of action on how to get there, then in the long run, there is no obstacles. Not really. There are things the character runs into that can be construed as speed bumps, but narratively speaking, obstacles are the things that stop you from immediately arriving at the ultimate goal. There is no ultimate goal, so there are no obstacles, just generic goals. Everything else is very well done. The intro gets you aquainted with who Earl is, the inciting incident is when he is approached about the job, the crossing of the threshold is when he accepts the job, the climax is a big culmination of everything before it, and it calms down and returns to a new sense of norm by the end, a nearly perfect narrative structure.

ENTERTAINMENT – 2/10 (20%)

Rewatchability – 0/2 | Fun Experience – 1/2 | Impulse/Talk – 0/2 | Impulse/Buy – 0/2 | Sucks you In – 1/2

Alright, I’m circling back to the fact that I’m not in the demographics for this film, so this category was probably never going to be rated very highly, but I’m trying to keep this as objective as possible by saying the technical areas where this film failed were the primary reasons why certain subcategories received lower scores in the Entertainment category. I don’t care to rewatch it because as nostalgic as it can sometimes feel, not a lot tecnically happens to move the story along. I would say certain areas of the film felt fun to watch, like Eastwood’s character using dumb smarts to outwit curious eyes – I wanted MORE of that, but ultimately didn’t get it. I have no impulse to buy it or own it, but that overall sense that something important was about to happen does happen throughout the film – meaning it does suck you in, even just for a little. But like I said, so much of the film feels filler at the same time, that’s a lot of pausable moments that doesn’t make you feel like you GOTTA watch what comes next.

SPECIALTY – 25/40 (62.5%)

Clint Eastwood – 5/10 | Drama – 5/10 | Biopic – 5/10 | Halfway Decent – 10/10

Certain audiences have expectations coming into this movie, like…how did Clint Eastwood do? He did great, but I have a feeling that when talking about his career, The Mule probably won’t really come up in comparison to the rest of his career. As a drama film, I did feel the drama, but I didn’t so much feel the emotional connection a lot of drama films have. As a biographical feature, this is fictional. They didn’t just change names, they changed huge facts, so I didn’t feel like I learned so much about a character, but it WAS interesting enough. Finally, was it halfway decent? Yes, I believe they made the movie they intended to make from the get go – that deserves credit.

TOTAL SCORE – 60%

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