Eastwood shines in gritty ‘Mule’
There will always be stories to tell, but only Clint Eastwood can cinematically tell them in ways that intimately absorb viewers, whether blood, tears, or laughter flows.
Eastwood’s film career surged as an anti-hero loner — a man with no name — riding through a much more lawless and morally corrupt west in Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western “A Fistful of Dollars”.
Perhaps purposefully, he now plays Earl Stone, a 90-year-old horticulturist who’s more often than not broke and estranged from his family as he travels displaying his flowers. When the recession brings farm foreclosure, a bitter, loud squabble at his granddaughter’s leads to a Mexican cartel member referring him as a skilled driver. Lead to an in-plain-sight garage/gasoline station, Stone quips about cell phones and texting while otherwise accepting a hushed drop off driving assignment.
Using a wad of earned cash to pay for a wedding reception, Stone’s greed lust surfaces in Robin Hood-like ways — making a run to reopen the VFW and civic projects. It’s not until the third run that he opens the bag to learn the contents of his illegal cash cow deliveries.
Here’s where Nick Schenk’s screenplay has its worst stumble along the road of crafting audience favor for the hard-shelled country boy philosopher who’s often blaming change on “the damn internet.” Recognizing the felonious errors of his new highly paid gig, Stone also exploits his value as the not stereotypical driver.
Despite monetary good intentions, Eastwood’s hunched shoulders, cobbled walk, strained raspy voiced depiction never orally quantifies the wretched harms his deliveries bring to the addicted. Instead, he enjoys his newly found attention from family members who swear that his wealth (or lack thereof) impacted family dysfunction.
Before the cartel and DEA both tail him, Stone and agent Bradley Cooper chat about how forgotten family anniversaries due to workload can sew hostility in relationships. It’s this conversation which chastens Stone to confront his long list of failures, many more challenges than his remaining time on Earth oblige. His resentful ex-wife, played by Diane Wiest, cannot forgive him for the pain of a wasted 10-year-marriage and his daughter hasn’t spoken to him since he skipped her wedding.
Still, it’s Eastwood’s somber, yet gleeful, playing and singing country music oldies along reoccurring vast, untended vistas of countrysides that solidifies his pleasant “on the road again” penchant to bring him full circle back to a physically and morally isolated loner of few words pondering his past and future.