The Mule has a very intriguing premise: a 90 year-old white man finds himself running drugs for a Mexican cartel after losing his home and job. It sets itself up to be a good and interesting character study. The film certainly is that, but not in the way I was expecting.
Much of the movie is spent with the main character Earl in his car driving to and from the location where the drugs will be dropped off. During all this time, we’re able to learn about him and about his character traits. The problem is that almost all of his character traits are stereotypes of men his age. He is a racist, doesn’t know how to use his cell phone, and says the internet is ruining younger generations. It just feels as if Clint Eastwood wrote himself a role where he could express all of his personal complaints about the world, while showing how intolerant he is at the same time. He also carries out his typical formula for one of his movies, where his main character is a hero, almost beyond reproach.
But this movie isn’t all bad. Not even close. Eastwood does a great job of building suspense the whole time. With each run Earl goes on, the stakes get higher and higher. Subsequently, the tension continues to rise each time. As the DEA starts to catch on to what he is doing, there is the feeling of foreboding that slowly continues to build.
Though, the longer Earl ran drugs, the more I found myself taking the side of the DEA officers, played by Bradley Cooper and Michael Peña. Earl knew what he was doing and that it was illegal, and he spent his whole life disregarding his family. It was difficult to stay on his side knowing these things about him.
This definitely wasn’t intentional, either. The character is framed in such a way to make the audience be on his side the whole time. But his supposed naivety just isn’t convincing, thus making it easy to root against him, even as he is teaching other people about life.
The fact that Earl is the overall focus of the film doesn’t allow other characters to develop as much as they should, either. It makes Cooper the center of the B-plot, but he isn’t developed as much as he should be. He has an unfortunately poorly-written character who should have more to do.
Cooper’s character is a microcosm of The Mule as a whole. It has good ideas and some legitimate potential, but it ultimately falls short of its overall goal.