4K Blu-ray Review: The Mule

It’s pretty clear at this point that Clint Eastwood will work until the day he leaves this earth. At the spry age of 88, Eastwood finds himself both behind and in front of the camera in the leading role of his latest film, The Mule. Yes, at almost 90 years old we watch this man who is still thinking and moving in ways most of us can only hope we’ll be able to do in the decades before that age hits us, and only he knows what’s on deck in his career. But if The Mule ends up being his last film in either position, it’s not a bad note to go out on…that is to say, it’s not an overly memorable one either.

The Mule is written by Gran Torino screenwriter Nick Schenk and is based on The New York Times article “The Sinaloa Cartel’s 90-Year-Old Drug Mule” by Sam Dolnick, which tells the story of World War II veteran Leo Sharp, who became a drug courier in his 80s. In this movie the lead character’s name is Earl Stone (Eastwood), and he’s a guy who has spent his entire life on the road selling homegrown lilies, and because of this he now finds himself divorced, with a daughter who hates him and a granddaughter, Ginny (Taissa Farmiga) who loves him, even though he feels like he’s let her down. Yes, while Earl had a successful business for decades, the Internet craze caused it to go under and now he’s broke and unable to pay for Ginny’s wedding as promised.

In a somewhat convenient fashion, just as Earl is about to walk away from everyone for good, he’s approached by a random guy at Ginny’s – what seems to be a stag and doe of sorts – who strikes up a conversation after hearing Earl needs money. Earl brings up the fact that he’s driven all over most of the United States and he’s never been stopped and never even got a speeding ticket. I’m sure there was a more subtle way to do this scene, but we’ll let it slide, as it’s just one of a number of awkwardly handled scenes that seem to try and explain things to the audience bluntly instead of making them do any work for the information.

Earl is basically told that he can get paid to drive for these people this guy knows, and if he wants money just to give them a call. With his house in foreclosure, no way to pay for the wedding, and no real financial prospects in general, Earl takes him up on it and quickly finds himself mixed up in Cartel business, transporting drugs across state lines.

The thing is, there’s no real emotional connection to Earl or what he’s doing. He’s not a bad guy, and he throws out some decent one-liners, and while he seems set in his old-school ways, he also seems nice enough that we don’t want anything bad to happen to him. But that all said, I found myself not really caring about most of what’s happening and more or less only intrigued about where it would all lead. That’s not a bad thing for a movie, as at least it had me interested, it’s just that there’s a lot of drawn out scenes, and lack of a strong antagonist that really doesn’t help things move along.

The movie co-stars Bradley Cooper, who has clearly learned a thing or two from Clint and used that to begin his own directing career. Cooper stars as DEA Agent Colin Bates, a fresh face looking to make a name for himself in the agency and sees taking down one of the cartel’s biggest mules as just the way to do it. Any time Cooper is on the screen the calibre of the film jumps up a notch, which really speaks volumes about Cooper’s ability and how much he’s grown over the years. Most of his scenes take place alongside his partner, DEA Agent Trevino (Michael Pena) and while the two have solid chemistry, Pena can’t help but be comedic relief, especially when that seems to be the only reason his character’s around. The biggest problem with this is that it’s also not really that funny and it makes the tone of the movie somewhat disjointed, as we have Trevino shooting off quips any time he opens his mouth, and Earl is also constantly cracking jokes, yet the movie comes off like it wants to be taken somewhat seriously and hit home with audiences emotionally, and it misses on both those fronts.

As mentioned before, it also doesn’t help that even the film’s antagonists in the cartel come off like nice enough guys that just want to have fun and make money. That’s mostly made clear by the cartel boss, Laton (Andy Garcia) who is happy to let Earl play by his own rules, so long as the cash is flowing. Heck, even Laton’s tough, play-by-the-rules right hand man who is sent to follow Earl and make sure he’s trustworthy goes from being someone we think may actually show Earl just how scary the situation he’s gotten himself into is to singing Dean Martin’s “Ain’t That A Kick in the Head” with Earl as they drive down the highway. While this isn’t how it is the entire time, even when things get more serious on the cartel side, they’re still never that threatening. At points where things happen that should make the audience feel danger is on the horizon or things need to change or else repercussions will be faced, we’re instead left just watching things play out at their usual, relaxed pace, with no sense of urgency or suspense.

That’s not to say there aren’t positives to be found here. Fans of Eastwood will still enjoy watching him being a tough, old SOB, talking down to much younger guys – who are often brandishing firearms – without giving it a second thought, even though they could easily kill him without breaking a sweat in reality. It’s also clear that Eastwood’s still got a great eye for how to put a movie together in engaging fashion, even if the subject matter is somewhat lacking in that department. And the overall message that the movie aims to deliver, much like Earl, has its heart in the right place. The main problem being that unlike many of Eastwood’s stronger, more memorable films, once The Mule is over, it’s not really one you’ll really ever look back on to the point where the message will resonate.

The movie has a beautiful look to it that also helps keep the viewer engaged even when the story goes over some speedbumps. The visuals used for a lot of the driving scenes showcase some wonderful landscapes, and as a whole each area Earl visits over the course of his new journey gives off a distinct feeling that helps set it apart from the last. The clean look of the film on 4K is also top level, and while it’s not necessarily a format required to enjoy the film to its fullest, it does deliver the best visuals if that’s what you’re after. That said, the Blu-ray looks wonderful as well, so you really can’t go wrong on either front this time out. The audio mix is also top notch, with the dialogue coming through as sharp as Eastwood’s intended barbs at his co-stars, and the soundtrack blasting through nicely, especially during the driving scenes, which really help deliver the feeling of being on the road, radio blasting.

Special Features:

Nobody Runs Forever: The Making of The Mule This is the lone feature on the disc, and runs at 11-minutes in length. There are some fun tidbits to be found here about the making of the movie, with a lot of the cast and crew talking about working on the film, what Eastwood is like to work with and what he expects of those on his crew, to the adapting of the film and a fun Easter egg when it comes to Eastwood’s outfits worn throughout the movie.

There’s also a music video for Toby Keith’s “Don’t Let The Old Man In.”

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Presents The Mule. Directed by: Clint Eastwood. Written by: Nick Schenk. Starring: Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Andy Garcia, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Pena, Dianne Wiest, Taissa Farmiga, Alison Eastwood. Running time: 116 Minutes. Rating: PG. Released on Blu-ray: Apr. 2, 2019.

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