The Mule is another classic Clint Eastwood road movie. I’m guessing Clyde the orangutan has retired from acting otherwise he’d be along for the ride too.
Earl Stone (Clint Eastwood) is an award-winning horticulturist who charms the pants off the older ladies at conventions. You could call him Flirty Harry. Eh? Eh?
When the internet kills his business (guess all those millennials buy their potted plants from Amazon now), Earl needs money. A friend of his granddaughter Ginny (Taissa Farmiga) recommends him to drive for a drug cartel.
The Mule is tense. We know Earl is in over his head before he does. It’s the Hitchcockian theory of showing the audience the bomb under the desk. In this case, the bomb is cocaine and scary drug dealers.
At first, Earl doesn’t even understand disposable phones or how to text. He’s sort of perfect for the cartel. He won’t ask questions because he doesn’t even know the questions to ask.
Earl is quick thinking when he has some close calls with law enforcement. He sort of goes from blissfully ignorant to realizing he’s so good at the job he can tell the cartel, “Fine, kill me” and know that they need him too much to lose their best driver.
Along the way, The Mule makes some quirky random pit stops, or rather Earl makes some bizarre pit stops. They don’t all work, but there’s no other movie like it in theaters this holiday season.
He counters Dykes on Bikes and is bemused by all the friendly lesbians. Earl has two lady guests in a motel room one night.
He stops for a family with a flat tire, which seems grossly reckless. In addition to endangering the shipment, he’s endangering them by associating with them. He could just call AAA for them.
The scene exists to show Earl’s frustration with the generation that doesn’t know how to do manual things like fix tires, and so he can call them Negros.
When DEA agents Bates (Bradley Cooper) and Trevino (Michael Pena) stop the wrong guy, the innocent motorist repeatedly remarks how this innocent pullover is the most dangerous five minutes of his life. That’s a relevant point, but pretty indelicate. I don’t think most Latino drivers are going to explain their fears to the officers like that.
There is a big thread about Earl chastising the younger generation for being on their phones. This goes for millennials as well as middle aged people.
It seems equal parts Eastwood wanting to express his frustration while also acknowledging ways in which he or people of his generation may be behind. It doesn’t come to any successful conclusion, so it’s ultimately just a quirky side to this conventional thriller.
The point is also that Earl stops to smell the roses. He already doesn’t understand what it cost his family and now he’s risking the lives of everyone he encounters on these breaks. At least, I was worried for them. I don’t think the movie was.
What made Earl successful in business and popular socially also made him a bad husband and father. In 2005 he missed his daughter’s wedding to buy a round of drinks for the horticulture convention.
So when Earl’s ex-wife Mary (Diane Wiest) mentions his history of being on the road and missing family events, we believe her. Earl is clueless why they resent him because he thinks he was providing for them.
Since we saw him use the round of drinks as an excuse to miss the wedding, we know there’s some sort of psychological avoidance going on.
He is a generous guy. He buys rounds, he pays for Ginny’s wedding and for the veteran center to get rebuilt. He just doesn’t get that he’s neglecting his family’s needs. I don’t really think he ever gets it. At best he may decide to just try the other way, since his family didn’t like when he did things his way.
I’d be surprised if must of this was based on Leo Sharp, the actual mule it’s based on. It seems like they took the idea “an old guy was a mule” and made their own movie about it, the way Dangerous Minds took the idea that Louanne Johnson taught in an inner city school and made their own movie about that.
I liked it though. I was along for the ride with Earl and entertained by the character of his random roadside encounters.
The Mule opens Friday, December 14 in theaters.