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I admittedly haven't seen a Clint Eastwood film since Million Dollar Baby, and that wasn't even when it first came out. Yes, I'm guilty of missing out on much of this living legend's filmography despite him being a personal favourite of mine.
But when my father told me we should check out his new film, The Mule, I said to myself, "Enough is enough!" And off to the cinema we went.
Needless to say, I wasn't disappointed. While I definitely don't think this is one of Eastwood's stronger works, The Mule is nevertheless quite self-aware in more ways than one and does give us plenty of food for thought when we think about "motivation" and tough decisions people often feel they have to make in life.
Our "mule" of the evening is Earl Stone (Eastwood), a 90-year-old horticulturist who turns to drug couriering to try and support his estranged family.
I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who can relate to Earl's plight in this film at least to some degree. Not only do many of us think we need to sacrifice our family life for the sake of financial stability, but we also get carried away with "magic money" through under-the-table tactics that seem like they'll immediately solve all our problems.
We don't stop to think about options that we could seek together with our families, and we delude ourselves with the idea that money will improve our family ties. This is the miscommunication that Eastwood expertly depicts on screen, with all its mental and social consequences.
One family member that stuck out to me was Earl's granddaughter. Despite everything, she is the only person who tried involving Earl in family events because she sees that he truly is someone with a good heart.
Even if she might have felt disappointment toward him at some point - which is completely reasonable—this nevertheless makes her convincing because it speaks to who she is as an individual from the get-go.
If there is anything I wanted more of, it was a deeper interaction between Earl and Bradley Cooper's (a favourite actor of mine of this generation) character, a drug enforcement administration agent.
It would have been so cool to get even more of an insightful yet ironic dynamic between the supposed "antagonist" and the expected hero that wasn't confined to barely a handful of scenes. In spite of the sides they're on, they aren't different in terms of understanding.
I was almost expecting them to team up and expose the cartel thugs, and while that would have been fun to watch, I'm glad they didn't ruin the point of the film by going down that route.
In any case, I liked seeing Earl come out from isolation and interact with what he's been missing out on for so many years. It's natural for someone his age and in his situation to not exactly be "with it," but there's still something so charming about his reaction to everything. Not to mention, his sense of humour is unfiltered and hilarious.
I'm, of course, not referring to the shady parts of his journey. You can tell how much it all kills him deep down no matter how effective his show is. That is world class acting right there.
It was interesting to see how the thugs vary in morality, as well. There are those who are very "chill" and honestly seem like they'd fit in with society just fine, those who are relentless through and through, and those who seem stone cold but are really just trying to secure themselves and their mules.
And again, it's an accurate portrayal of this spectrum because it all comes down to motivation and intention. Regardless of whether they are criminals or not, all people fall under similar categories and everything in between. While we don't get too much of a look into the thugs' lives, there's enough legroom to make assumptions based on our flexible view of these things.
One aspect of the film I'm on the fence about is showing so many of Earl's trips. On the one hand, it makes sense to show just how far he goes down the rabbit hole; but on the other hand, it's just so mundane from a cinematic point of view when much of that screen time could have been allocated to other areas in need of development (e.g. the above-mentioned relationship with Cooper's character, the thugs, and the family members).
But it's kind of hard for me to really criticise any part of the film with the overarching theme in mind, especially when it has such an autobiographical feel to it.