'The Mule: 4K Ultra HD'
(Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Peña, Dianne Wiestt, et al / 2-Disc + Digital / R / 2019 / Warner Bros.)
Overview: Clint Eastwood stars as a 90-year-old horticulturist and Korean War veteran turns drug mule for a Mexican cartel.
Blu-ray Verdict: Warner Bros. is expanding their 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray catalog offerings this month with the release of the brilliant, quite stunning 'The Mule’ in the expansive 4K Ultra HD video format this April 2nd, 2019.
For my money, this 'The Mule: 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital' combo pack's sharpness takes a fairly large step forward from others in their 4K Ultra HD catalog and even comes with HDR (High Dynamic Range) for the complete 4K Ultra HD experience, of course.
So, what we have is 'The Mule' presented to us as a two-disc combo pack with a sheet for a Digital HD Copy. Other stand out points you should know are: Codec: HEVC / H.265, Resolution: Upscaled 4K (2160p), HDR: HDR10
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1, and Original aspect ratio: 2.39:1.
Featuring Dolby Vision and HDR10 for brighter, deeper, and way more lifelike colors, as with most all 4K UHD's, everything that we watch features these qualities - but somehow, this film gloriously shines within them all.
Noticeably crisper with the overall clarity receiving an obvious boost here on this release, what's more is that it's enjoyably noticeable. For as well as some new nuances to the somewhat drab palette courtesy of Dolby Vision we also get to witness sudden bright pops of color; like the various woods scenes where Clint and the drug runners have their face-to-face moments. It just all comes more vividly to life now, which is amazing to see, in truth.
Indeed, the picture enjoys the fruits of the added resolution in terms of bringing out the aforementioned extremely fine facial and some of the yellow graded material (notably some scenes where Eastwood is sat alone in his truck, counting money, making considerations to what he's fallen into at his old age) now have a kind of honeyed amber appearance. Which is interesting, and at least a little different from the 1080p Blu-ray accounting.
As for the audio, well we have: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, French (Canada): Dolby Digital 5.1, and Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1. With Subtitles in English SDH, French, Spanish.
Overall, this is a very strong 4K HDR Blu-ray presentation, and, for the most part, the audio track remains fairly similar to its DTS-HD counterpart; with much of the action occupying the surrounds with outstanding directionality and placement where effects flawlessly pan between the sides and rears.
Phew! OK, so, as for the movie itself, when 90-year-old Earl Stone loses everything he loves, can he use ill-gotten gains to win it back before the DEA, or the cartel, takes him down?
Written by Nick Schenk and directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, 'The Mule' was inspired by a New York Times article "The Sinaloa Cartel's 90-Year Old Drug Mule" by Sam Dolnick.
Indeed, 'The Mule' uses true events to frame a much more compelling story. Bucking the current trend of emotionally monochrome dramas, this film is a rich tapestry of triumph and tragedy, humor and sadness, and guilt and forgiveness.
Earl Stone (Clint Eastwood) is a successful horticulturalist in Peoria, Illinois but neglectful of his family. He finds himself estranged from his wife Mary (Dianne Wiest) and daughter Iris (Alison Eastwood), but is still admired by his granddaughter Ginny (Taissa Farmiga).
Mary and he divorce, and after failing to embrace the digital age, Stone's business falls on hard times. He takes a mysterious offer to deliver a package from Mexico to Chicago. With his newfound income, he rebuilds the local VFW after a fire and helps pay for his granddaughter's cosmetology tuition.
Meanwhile, he frustrates his cartel handler, Julio (Ignacio Serricchio) with his unpredictable behavior.
Things get complicated when DEA agent Colin Bates (Bradley Cooper) and his partner Trevino (Michael Peña) flip a cartel employee and he tips them off about a successful drug mule known as "Tata", or grandfather.
The unassuming elderly white man with a clean record was able to slip under law enforcement's radar. At 90 years of age and with the DEA on his tail, Earl Stone is running out of time to reverse his fortunes and reconcile with his family.
'The Mule' is loosely based on the life of Leo Sharp, a WW2 veteran and Detroit-based horticulturalist and daylily farmer who began working as a drug mule for the Sinaloa cartel after his business fell on hard times.
His life of crime made him a millionaire. Sharp was finally caught in 2011 at the age of 87, pled guilty to drug conspiracy, and served one year in prison before being let out due to his declining health. He died in December 2016.
Most of the events depicting Earl Stone's family life were not based on his historic counterpart. Sharp had a wife and three children, and was still married when he died.
The filmmakers changed the years in which the events took place, and changed Sharp's home state from Michigan to Illinois. These changes, particularly when it comes to the main character's personal life, substantially improved the story and added much-needed depth, drama, and substance.
The filmmakers didn't set out to tell Leo Sharp's story; they used it as a springboard to tell their own.
In truth, it's difficult not to compare 'The Mule' with Clint Eastwood's 2008 film 'Gran Torino'. We don't see many elderly protagonists on screen anymore, and Eastwood seems to have carved a new niche for himself late in his career.
Like the character of Walt Kowalski, Leo Sharp is an emotionally reserved and politically-incorrect elderly white man having a difficult time adjusting to the modern world. Both are Korean War veterans, and both experience the loss of a spouse.
While Kowalski sacrifices himself to remove a threat to his community, Sharp embraces a life of crime to improve his financial situation and help others in need.
Sharp is no hero, but he learns the importance of placing family before his own ambition, finds forgiveness, and rekindles his relationship with his family. The Mule's message is deeply personal, and therefore is the more emotionally impactful of the two films.
In closing and with what might be his last film, 88-year-old Clint Eastwood cements his place as one of the greatest actors and directors of our time here in 'The Mule.'
As for the Special Features included, the stand out is definitely the short-but-sweet behind-the-scenes featurette 'Making of The Mule: Nobody Runs Forever.'
All-too short, but highly enjoyable, it includes comments from actor/director Clint Eastwood, producer Kristina Rivera, screenwriter Nick Schenk, actors Ingacio Serricchio ("Julio"), Andy Garcia ("Laton"), Alison Eastwood ("Iris"), and Bradley Cooper ("Agent Colin Bates"), as well as producer Tim Moore and other members of the cast and crew.
Although it doesn't have time to go into great detail, it briefly touches upon 'Gran Torino', adapting the original story, growing day lilies, building a stash house and researching drug cartels, shooting on the road, wardrobes and costume design, stories from the set, and more.
I just wish it had been around 40 minutes longer though, in truth! This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs via 1080p and comes with the Special Features of:
Making of The Mule: Nobody Runs Forever (10:59, 1080p) - Join actor/producer/director Clint Eastwood and the all-star cast and crew of The Mule as Eastwood makes his bold return to the big screen.
Toby Keith - "Don't Let the Old Man In" Music Video (2:54, 1080p / Dolby Digital 2.0)
'The Mule' Trailer
'The Mule: 4K Ultra HD' Amazon Purchase Link