You only live once (The Mule movie review)

When me Earl Stone (great Clint Eastwood who is also a director of this movie), he is a soul of the company and a star in the hermetic world of growers of decorative flowers, who celebrates another victory in a yearly competition instead of taking his daughter to the altar. After short, but very suggestive introduction, we see him 12 years later as an over-80-year-old, broken, lonely man, whose business has bankrupted and whose family – after never-ending disappointments – has turned away from him. Being forced to sell his house and not having a place to go, he accepts a job offer from the group of Mexicans that want him to bring a package from point A to point (in the first part of “The Mule” the protagonist doesn’t know that he is carrying around kilograms of narcotics). After first ride, Earl earns more money that he could ever dream of. What was supposed to be his one-time mission becomes his full-time job and the old man can help his granddaughter in organizing her wedding, his friends in saving their favourite bar, and becomes a respected member of the local community again.

In “The Mule” the thread of drug cartels – their structures, organization, and rules – becomes a background for a story about an old man who – at the edge of his life – tries to make the years of absence up to his family. That’s why the Eastwood’s movie is not like other productions in which criminal activities are shown with distance and tongue in cheek. The director makes space for really funny and grotesque moments (for example in the epic scene of the hilarious party at Earl’s new boss villa) and slightly idealizes the cartel community as a group in which brotherhood really matters, but he doesn’t let those parts overshadow the drama of the protagonist who took too much time to realize that flowers shouldn’t have overtaken the place of people he loves.

The main story is rather simple – Earl manages to transport more and more drugs on one go, which – obviously – draws the attention of DEA. Agent Colin Bates (very good Bradley Cooper) treats this case with very special engagement because he hopes to be promoted after successful unmasking of the cartel, Laton (great Andy Garcia) – Earl’s boss – is like a gold father to his employees and always has a beautiful, half-naked girls to make them feel better, Julio (amazing Ignacio Serricchio) is a bad boy who wants to kill those that won’t listen to his instruction but inside hides a big warm heart. The entire construction is made of stereotypes and clichés, like a scene in which Bates talks to Stone and has no idea that the old man is the one that he is looking for, but the movie – thanks to the subtle humour and great acting – remains fun to watch.

Nevertheless, stereotypes, especially racial ones, are in “The Mule” a big problem. We can see it in the scenes in which the police stops suspected cars to find Tata (its Earl’s cartel nickname): they only consider those vehicles that are driven by Mexicans, and that’s why the protagonist for a long time remains untouchable. This thinking becomes a caricature, when Bates stops a totally weird guy who seems to be pretty excited about being checkout by the police – he calls this moment the most dangerous and unexpected event in his entire life. This scene also subtly reveals the problem with racism in the authorities – the suspected man fears that white officers will shoot him if they feel like it. It’s hard to say whether Eastwood is consciously criticizing racial prejudices or does it unintentionally, because he focuses only on creating a humorous dialogue. The construction of the movie would suggest that the director doesn’t leave the conservative optics and only accidentally negates the dominant order. Nevertheless, it’s important to highlight that the portraits of the Mexicans are in “The Mule” rather affirmative. Eastwood often repeats the same scheme – members of the carters wear dangerous masks but deep inside they are sensitive and caring.

The Mule” is not a brilliant movie, but its director does there a brilliant performance and he is the guy that makes this title worth watching. Eastwood is particularly disarming in which is character shows a stoic peace of an old man who has been through too much to let some young dealers threaten him.