I was not eager to see “The Mule,” for many reasons. Stories in which the protagonist is a drug dealer don’t interest me at all; I avoided “Breaking Bad” and “Weeds” for the same reason. The popular culture, especially Hollywood, played a major role in breaking down society’s consensus disapproval of recreational drug use, and I hope they are proud of all the harm they have caused, and the greater harm yet to come.
Then there is the fact that seeing Clint Eastwood looking like the Cryptkeeper (from HBO’s “Tales of the Crypt”) depresses me. I remember Clint from his “Rawhide” days, and seeing his ruined beauty makes me feel like I’m watching the villain rot at the end of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” when he “chooses poorly,” but for real. I admired Cary Grant’s decision to stop making movies when he began to stop looking like Cary Grant, and Marlene Dietrich’s determination not to appear in public so that people would remember her as one of Hollywood’s great beauties, and not as an old lady.
But as often in the case, having limited options in a hotel made Eastwood’s latest directorial and performing effort the best of a bad group of entertainment choices. The film is based on the true story of a ninety-year-old man (Clint isn’t quite that old, but he looks it) who became a drug mule, transporting cocaine for a Mexican drug cartel. The film has an excellent supporting cast including Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne, Dianne Wiest and Andy Garcia. (who also looks like hell), though none of them have much to do except be props for Clint’s star turn.
To do as little spoiling as possible, I’ll just say that the story involves an aging—aged—narcissist who has neglected his family outrageously, falls into a lucrative gig transporting drugs because he loves to drive, has never had a ticket, and is unlikely to attract attention, and suddenly decides to make the needs of his family a priority over work for the first time in his life, getting him arrested and almost getting him killed.
Clint still has his screen presence and charm, which is fortunate, because the central character, Earl Stone, is a selfish jerk. His toxic personal habits don’t seem so bad when the victims are drug smugglers, but when, early in the movie, he skips his daughter’s wedding without warning because he’d rather be at a sales convention partying with his colleagues, it is hard to care what happens to him.
We quickly learn that this betrayal was characteristic of Earl, and that he rationalizes them all, arguing that he was absent from his family to provide for them, and is blameless. It’s clearly a lie: his family bores him, and he does exactly what he wants to do, always. Sometimes he helps people and is randomly kind, as when we see him pause in one of his drug runs to help a couple stranded on the road. Other times, he doesn’t give a damn.
When a family argument breaks out as he attempts to attend his grand-daughter’s bridal shower, a guest overhears that Earl has lost his home and business (that’s really why he showed up at his granddaughter’s place, that and the fact that she was the only family member still on speaking terms with him) and gives him a phone number. These people will pay him well just for driving, Earl is told.
Gee, I wonder what that is all about? It’s a mystery! We then enter the unethical world of wilful ignorance. Clint’s character is a veteran, considers himself a law-abiding citizen, and he’s not an idiot, but still cheerily allows a group of Latino men to place an unidentified package in the back of his pick-up truck after telling them that they can’t cut a secret compartment in it. They give him a burner phone, and tell him to answer it day or night. They tell him to park the truck when he reaches his destination, leave the keys in the glove compartment, and that he will find his compensation and the keys there when he returns. What does Earl think he’s doing, if not currying illegal cargo? The fact that he never asks or checks (until a later trip) doesn’t make him any more innocent than the cartel thugs.
After a change at the top of the cartel chain of command results in new and brutal management that isn’t willing to tolerate Earls’ peccadilloes, like delaying his deliveries so he can have threesomes with prostitutes and be the life of the party in honky-tonk bars, the Old Mule, code name Ta-Ta, realizes that he is now owned by murderous criminals. Then, mid-run with the largest payload of coke he or anyone has moved on the road, Earl gets a call from his granddaughter. His ex-wife is dying.
Now Earl faces a dilemma reminiscent of what we discussed on Ethics Alarms here and here, in the matter of the Washington Nationals relief pitcher who took paternity leave and missed a crucial game. (There are significant differences, of course. The pitcher had a contractual right to choose family over his employer’s needs, and the baseball team wasn’t going to have him killed if he blew off the game.) Earl decides to take a detour and go AWOL to comfort his wife. She is touched and grateful, dying with Earl holding her hand. He goes to her funeral, and is finally reconciled with his family. He even is invited to Thanksgiving dinner.
Yet Earl hasn’t changed a bit. He still did what he wanted to do. The drug deliveries were just work to him; they weren’t fun, like partying with the salesmen. Yes, being with his wife this time happened to be the right thing to do, but there was also something in it for him. He wanted to reconcile with his family before he died. He knew he had been a lousy husband and father. This took some courage, but lack of courage is never shown to be one of Earl’s flaws. And the man was 90-years old. At this point in his life, feeling better about himself and convincing himself that he had, in a few days, made up for a lifetime of mistreatment of his family—what a deal!—was more important than living as long as possible.
I can’t end this post without noting the review of the film by Chrsty Lemire at the Roger Ebert website. It’s another blatant example of how media progressives drag their political agenda advocacy into every aspect of our lives, part of the ongoing indoctrination process. She writes,
There’s also an icky, creeping sensation of xenophobia that permeates the film. One could imagine “The Mule” being used as an argument in favor of President Trump’s proposed border wall, given its tone-deaf and one-dimensional depiction of the minorities Earl encounters. Casually racist, he refers to blacks and Hispanics in good-naturedly antiquated terms. But then all the Mexicans he works for are scary, gun-toting criminals who want to bring drugs into our country, and many of them are depicted in stereotypical fashion with shaved heads and neck tats. They’re taking advantage of Earl, a hardworking Korean War veteran who’s seen the American Dream collapse beneath him.
Earl is Trump’s proverbial Forgotten Man: Elderly, white and living in the Heartland, he listens to country music and longs for a simpler time before the Internet complicated everything. He’s in your movie theater today, but you could easily imagine him on Fox News tomorrow.
Ugh. When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
- I didn’t think about illegal immigration issues once during “The Mule,” and I doubt that Eastwood did, because they have nothing to do with the story, are not alluded to in the film, and are irrelevant to it. I also didn’t think about illegal immigration because I am not clinically deranged by “resistance” politics, like Christy.
- The negative portrayal of members of a Mexican drug cartel is because these were members of a Mexican drug cartel. Christy wanted some nice cartel members? Maybe have the film show Clint with an adopted Mexican grandson who works to fight climate change?
When a film reviewer is capable of writing politically correct garbage like this, nobody should care what they think about a movie. Such people are no longer behaving like normal human beings, and what they enjoy or not is a product of their distorted reality.