The Mule review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Clint Eastwood’s filmmaking prowess is still very vibrant at such an old age but his weary bias is starting to show in problematic pieces throughout his work. In his previous meandering picture of The 15:17 to Paris, there’s a pointless scene of our American heroes giving goofy looks to some snotty French stereotypes as well as some mutterings about public education being too PC and foreign people being dirty. The Mule once more confirms that a lot of Eastwood’s conservative craziness is still amplified in his work where it becomes difficult to determine how much of his own role is either supposed to be a character of dated thoughts or if Eastwood really does believe black people should still be called negros. I thought that rambling racist persona was just a character in Gran Torino. Now I’m not so sure the way Eastwood doubles down on the crazy conservative in this picture.
Eastwood plays Earl, a horticulturist war veteran who lives a bitter life. He enjoys selling plants but despises selling at conventions of an automated technology. He has shunned his family who feel like he is never present in their lives. Oh, and he’s wicked racist, never missing an opportunity to call a Mexican a beaner or a lesbian a dyke (oh, but don’t worry, the lesbians said dike first so it’s okay that he says it, right?). He has fallen on hard times. Unwilling to reshape his business, he seeks out other means of making money. He falls into an operation of intitially being told by some gangsters to drive some bags from point A to point B. It seems simple enough. They wanted to secretly stash some stuff in his car’s compartments but, whatever, the money is good.
But then, as though this were a bad King of the Hill episode, Earl discovers that the bags he are transporting contain drugs! How could this be!? And he discovers this just as a cop pulls him over to ask what is in his trunk!? What a tense situation to be in. Now Earl must try to keep the drug shipments going while trying to find a way out. Yet he never feels as though he is in too deep or questioning too much of the errors he has made. Even when dealing with Mexican cartels that could gun him down, he still diverts off course and makes more racist jokes. He seems to want to do the right thing but always with an awkward and unaccounted for narrow view on the world.
Watching this kind of film is awkward with how Eastwood reacts to everyone and how everyone just kinda accepts it. Eastwood makes several rants about how smartphones have damaged the world he once knew but rather than call him out, everyone just sort of smiles and shakes their head, possibly muttering “okay, boomer” under their breath. He makes a racial slur every now and then others will either ignore it or gently try to explain you don’t use that language anymore. I’m sorry but I find it very hard to believe this old-timer could stroll into a Mexican cartel to call them all beaners and then make detours during his drop with little more than a stern talking to. Everyone in this picture respects their elders WAY too much. Oh, and he’s a Veteran so, you know, support the vets. Oh, and support the police, as Eastwood states several times.
The Mule is just downright weird. It’s as though Eastwood got his hands on a Breaking Bad style script and coated in a thick paint of conservatism to make the film pleasing enough for his core demographic of Americans 70-100. Things just work out far too well in this scenario that there’s more melodrama than tension and a lack of genuine concern when we know Eastwood will make it out alive. He’s still got a lot of young people to yell and sling slurs at.