Earl Stone sums up The Mule saying, “I could buy anything, but I couldn’t buy time.” If, perhaps, the life of a drug mule is hours of boredom punctuated by minutes of sheer terror, such may explain the slow pace of this flick. It takes time to drive from El Paso to Chicago. Time, we viewers will not get back. His wife explains that Earl must be the center of attention rather than the father of his family. Ultimately, Earl figures out that, as we approach death, no one cares about how many hours we work. Rather, what counts is the hours we spend with our loved ones. I give this movie 3.0 Gavels and it receives a 59% Rotten Tomatoes rating. It fares slightly better with an Audience score of 71%.
Based on a true story, in 2005 Earl wins awards as a horticulturist but misses his daughter’s wedding. Twelve years and many, many missed family events later, Earl faces bankruptcy. Not welcome at his granddaughter’s pre-wedding party, one of the guests suggests Earl can make some easy money. Initially, Earl is a bit naive, then later can’t resist the temptation. Earl is back, but at what cost?
At age 88, Clint Eastwood can still act and direct with the very best. As the crusty, out-of-step Earl Stone, he can still be a wonder to watch. Bradley Cooper is the DEA agent on Earl’s tail, but there is no meat to his part. Ditto for Laurence Fishburne as Cooper’s boss. The screenwriter missed big-time in failing to utilize their talents. Michael Pena, Cooper’s partner, is one of the funniest men alive, yet is barely recognizable. Andy Garcia is a caricature of a drug boss. With this script, only Dianne Wiest, as Earl’s ex-wife, is permitted to shine.
The difference between a bright, red tomato and a green sploosh on Rotten Tomatoes is 60%. I can just imagine Clint Eastwood saying to that last critic, “Make my day!” Since the studio did not allow The Mule to be reviewed prior to release, the critics were bound to be wary. With all the big movies out this week, this release date is something of a mystery. Wouldn’t this movie make a bigger splash in January? For those of you expecting Gran Torino, this will disappoint. A better view is to watch the torch of actor/ filmmaker pass from Eastwood to Cooper. Cooper may never be as beloved as Eastwood, but Eastwood clearly thinks Cooper to be a worthy successor.