(R / 128 mins)
Overview: Earl Stone, a man in his 80s who is broke, alone, and facing foreclosure of his business when he is offered a job that simply requires him to drive. Easy enough, but, unbeknownst to Earl, he's just signed on as a drug courier for a Mexican cartel.
He does well -- so well, in fact, that his cargo increases exponentially, and Earl is assigned a handler. But he isn't the only one keeping tabs on Earl; the mysterious new drug mule has also hit the radar of hard-charging DEA agent Colin Bates.
And even as his money problems become a thing of the past, Earl's past mistakes start to weigh heavily on him, and it's uncertain if he'll have time to right those wrongs before law enforcement, or the cartel's enforcers, catch up to him.
Verdict: ‘The Mule' is based on a true story, and a good one, but it’s weakened by a mediocre script. Clint Eastwood, who also directed, is Earl Stone, a 90-year-old former horticulturist at the end of several tethers.
Earl is broke, on the outs with his family and almost homeless when he gets a gig he hasn’t sought as a courier for a Mexican drug cartel. It’s all about his spotless driving record and his age-spotted face.
Those two factors, cartel recruiters in the Midwest realize, will make him invisible to cops, so off he goes in a new career, transporting kilos of cocaine cross-country—at first in his ancient pickup truck, then in a shiny new Lincoln Navigator that he acquires once his financial situation starts to improve.
It’s fun to watch Earl getting richer with every run, like a geezer dowser who has discovered an underground spring of cash. What’s less enjoyable is the film’s indifference to detail, and its penchant for formula. (Nick Schenk adapted the screenplay from a New York Times Magazine article by Sam Dolnick.)
Earl is smart, but he seems to be the least inquisitive of men, given his surprise at discovering, quite belatedly, the powdery nature of his cargo. What did he think his handlers were doing with all those heavy weapons at the garage where they loaded his truck?
Bradley Cooper, who starred—with great success—under Mr. Eastwood’s direction in “American Sniper,” is less fortunate this time; he does what he can, which isn’t much, with the clumsily conceived role of Colin Bates, the DEA agent who tracks Earl down.
Earl’s ex-wife, Mary, is played by Dianne Wiest, a superb actress condemned to play a scene of surpassing mawkishness.
'The Mule' is not a movie you’d want to see for its nuances. Yet the story at its core deals with matters that have long been Mr. Eastwood’s professional, and clearly personal, concern.
Earl feels burdened by guilt—not for hauling narcotics, but for a lifetime of neglecting those he loves—and seeks redemption that transcends melodramatic cliché. When the old man finally mans up to his failings, the movie succeeds with special poignancy.