For director Clint Eastwood, filmmaking is all a part of a professional process, and for the first time in years, his own lead performance mirrors that mantra. Playing an elderly man who's fallen on hard times due to failed business and familial decisions, Eastwood's character, Earl Stone, just likes to drive. When an offer for easy money comes his way, he takes it and becomes a drug mule for Mexican cartels.
This is all presented rather matter-of-factly (Earl struggles, Earl gets presented offer to remove him of said struggles, Earl thrives, Earl faces moral dilemma) and the symbiotic relationship between director and actor has never been more clear. Much is often written about Eastwood's "economy of means;" he does limited takes and works at a pace that could only be described as compact, assembly line, and blue collar. Much like Earl, Eastwood is often credited with getting the job done and moving on to the next project. Sometimes it works, as it does here in The Mule.
While the screenplay sometimes blatantly spells out its narrative beats—never more so than in the film's prologue in which the ways Earl has continuously failed are laid out, one-by-one, by his family—there's something to be said about the way this movie gets from Point A to its final scene at Point B; they're casually linked in a way that emotionally sneaks up on you. Featuring supporting characters that are often not much more than shamelessly expository (Laurence Fishburne 's character isn't even dignified with a last name in the end credits!), the film knows where its bread-and-butter lies. Earl is out-of-touch with a lot of things (issues of race and gender politics being but a few), but he knows how to get to the finish line in a timely fashion, even if he has to take a few slight detours.
Funny and, in its own perverse way, sexy, if The Mule signals the end of Eastwood's career in front of-and-behind the camera, this is an appropriate, sunlit-bathed swan song. Going into the film, I didn't realize that what I was missing in my life was a sentimental heart-to-heart between Eastwood and his co-star Bradley Cooper set in a Waffle House, but now I do. In the end, it's that kind of movie.
As The Mule is currently playing in theaters, we're presenting a behind-the-scenes look at the production. Check it out below.
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