The film industry is never quite the same when Clint Eastwood isn’t on the screen. Decades of truly wonderful work, the former Dirty Harry has focused on his directorial efforts more than anything in the last twenty years but his most recent effort, The 15:17 To Paris, was a big miscalculation and for the most part quite a flop, perhaps even more so given his previous film – 2013’s Oscar nominee American Sniper – was such a bona fide success. Quite possibly stung a little by the reaction to Paris, Eastwood has seized the opportunity to return in front of the camera with a film, and a role, that is tailored made for his mesmeric talents and does go some way to repair any damage done last year.
Eastwood plays Earl Stone, a elderly horticulturalist whose flowers business has thrived through the years though without compromise and, as such, his family life is fractured almost beyond repair: separated from his wife (Dianne Wiest), and estranged from his recently-married daughter (Alison Eastwood), it’s really only his granddaughter (Taissa Farmiga) who keeps in contact. Years later, his business has died in the emergence of e-commerce and the internet, and as a consequence he’s struggling in a world he doesn’t recognise. Desperate times, desperate measures and through a chance meeting with his granddaughter’s friend, Earl finds himself with a job, driving some cargo across Illinois – unbeknownst to him that he is soon wrapped up with the Mexican drug cartel and under the watchful eye of local DEA officer Colin Bates (Bradley Cooper).
Basking in the scorching surroundings of the Gulf of Mexico, The Mule has all the hallmarks of a sweaty, underhand cop thriller that would rise above the norm and here it is as much about the cartels and, by extension, Trump’s border wall offence but this is just below the surface of what is actually a touching, melancholic film about life, loneliness and relevance in later life with an unshowy and reflective gaze. But delve a little deeper and there isn’t quite enough to grab on to, playing more like a serious version of any of the countless road trips comedies over the years rather than a drama set on the road. That said, however,, Eastwood’s poise on both sides here is assured and magnetic as ever, producing one of his finest “twilight” performances, backed up by some solid turns from Cooper, Wiest, Laurence Fishburne and Michael Pena, even if the latter duo are left under-served for the most part.
In fact, that’s true of the film as it gallops towards its third act, it feels slightly under-served, flat almost when something a little more adventurous was needed. For a dramatic piece, it certainly fits the bill but you feel a little empty for the most part with the conclusion not quite what it could, and perhaps should have been – perhaps it’s a little too melancholic for its own good but then again in the final chapter of his stellar career, Eastwood has earnt the right to make something slightly more relaxed.
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Crime, Drama | USA, 2019 | 15 | 25th January 2019 (UK)| Warner Bros | Dir.Clint Eastwood | Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Alison Eastwood, Dianne West, Manny Montana, Taissa Farmiga