Film Review – The Mule (2018)

by Brennan Dubé
The Mule

Picture this: an elderly U.S Army veteran who grows and sells flowers decides to become a drug runner in a time of need. Clint Eastwood directs and returns to act in a film that fits the very typical Eastwood-esque genre. The Mule offers an intriguing journey but fails to capture its audience with its attempt at emotion and family struggle.

The following review will be spoiler free.


Directed By: Clint Eastwood

Written By: Nick Schenk

Starring: Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne, Dianne Wiest, Alison Eastwood, and Andy Garcia

The film centers around 90-year old Korean War veteran and horticulturist, Earl Stone (Eastwood). He’s in the midst of financial struggle while facing resentment from his family due to his past neglect of them. His desperation leads to him choosing to become a drug running “mule” for a Mexican drug cartel. As he gets more and more successful with his drug running, he decides to uplift his family’s economic status with his newfound drug running money and aids many others in his community, as well. Throughout his time as a drug runner, the DEA is ramping up its mission to bust the cartel. This leads Stone on a potential collision course with DEA agent Colin Bates (Cooper).


The Mule is based on a true story derived from The New York Times article about Leo Sharp, titled ‘The Sinola Cartel’s 90-Year Old Drug Mule’ by Sam Dolnick. In reality, Sharp was a WW2 veteran and is credited as the oldest mule in history. Upon his arrest in 2011, Sharp was 87 years old.

In 2014, Imperative Entertainment garnered the rights to the article and had plans to develop it into film. Originally, Ruben Fleischer (Venom) was tapped to direct and produce the film and Nick Schenk (Gran Torino) was brought on to adapt the film’s screenplay. However, in January of this year, it was revealed by Warner Bros. Pictures and Imperative Entertainment that Eastwood would direct, produce and star in the film. With this announcement, Warner Bros. also confirmed the film’s title to be The Mule.

In addition to Eastwood as the lead, in the following months of the initial announcement it was also confirmed that Bradley Cooper, Michael Peña, and Dianne Wiest would also join the project as main cast. The film was scheduled for release in late 2018 and would work on a budget of $50 million. This is Eastwood’s first major acting credit since 2012 when he featured in Trouble with the Curve, a film directed by Robert Lorenz.

the mule

image via IndieWire

Lack Of Suspense

Eastwood-directed films are known to offer up tales of very real and simple proportions. His acting style is very much similar to his style of storytelling by embodying a sense charm and subtlety. The Mule is a wild tale, but the film is not a Hollywood one. At times, there is a lack of intensity when the film is clearly aiming for something to come across as suspenseful or intense, and this tended to make the film feel slower and fairly bland.

There is a lot of intrigue however, and Earl Stone is a character that is very delightful to watch. As we follow Earl Stone throughout the film, his journey gets laid out in a particularly interesting way that ensures you stay hooked and that can surely be appreciated. His characteristics and the oddities of the story make the journey entertaining enough to follow. Strangely, the film contrasts mightily from the trailer which delivers the notion that this film will be an action-packed thriller. It is obviously common for a trailer to spin a films appearance in a certain way, but the extreme difference makes it necessary to call out.

the mule

image via Letterboxd

Eastwood Shines But the Film Fails to Leave an Impact

It is almost like this role was perfect for Eastwood. Earl Stone is addicted to working, he doesn’t know when to stop. Comparatively, Eastwood fits the role perfectly as this marks his second return from retirement. His charm and mannerisms work really well, but the film as an entirety is not a near perfect one.

While the storytelling is good, the film may leave you with a sense of longing. There is no real punch, and to keep the story true to realism and its real-life tale this is necessary, but it does hurt the level of enjoyment that can be had for the film. The film has no real sense of climax or peak in the film as the slow burn that the film begins with just seems to carry on until the credits role. The film has moments where heavy and heartfelt emotion is meant to be felt but the feeling just isn’t there. While you can feel bad for the characters in given moments, you don’t feel a sense of connection to anyone other than Stone (Eastwood).

the mule

image via National Review

The rest of the ensemble cast did very well in their roles. The strained relationship between Mary (Wiest) and Earl was a very believable one and the struggle of the family dynamic instills the greatest level of sympathy the film attempts to convey. Bradley Cooper and Michael Peña do a basic but satisfactory job at portraying DEA agents and Andy Garcia also plays a decent characterization of a drug lord. The cast is a particularly talented one and all of those involved don’t go over the top, but all play their parts with a very real and believable manner.

Final Thoughts

Clint Eastwood is debatably one of the most talented actors of all time and his performance as Earl Stone is an extremely exceptional one. Although besides Eastwood, nothing else in this film sticks out as unique or overly remarkable. The Mule is not a very memorable film and it cannot be classified as a must-see this holiday season. While still a good watch, it can definitely be appreciated for its strong, yet patient storytelling and shining subtlety.

Will this be the last of Eastwood on the big screen? The Mule marks his 37th directorial credit and 52nd acting credit after removing uncredited and other smaller works.

Grade: B-

the mule

image via Roger Ebert

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Liz Gauffreau December 17, 2018 - 7:00 pm

I’ll watch it to see Clint Eastwood’s performance.

Anonymous December 17, 2018 - 5:37 pm

Your overall view of this film is perfect. I shared the same thoughts on it as well.

Nick Kush December 17, 2018 - 9:18 am

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