REVIEW: Inconsistent tone causes ‘Mule’ to crash

“The Mule” was a rather perplexing experience. Mainly because the tone was all over the place for so much of the picture.

Earl Stone, played by Clint Eastwood, is the main character of “The Mule.” He’s an older gentleman who had a successful career as a gardener. However, with the rise of the internet his business fell to pieces and his commitment to his job meant he was alienated from his family.

Wanting to still support his family, though, despite being pushed away for his absences, Earl looks for ways to find money and through a chance encounter, becomes a mule for a Mexican drug cartel. Because he’s a simple, nice old man who just likes listening to old tunes and follows the law, Earl actually becomes the perfect drug smuggler. However, the cartel operation as a whole comes under investigation by a federal agent named Colin Bates (Bradley Cooper).

There were times when I wasn’t sure if “The Mule” was trying to be funny, or if I was laughing unintentionally. The film is following a person doing dangerous work with lethal people who are willing to kill without a second thought, and delivering products that ultimately harm others. However, there’s always this aloofness and/or naivety with Earl, where it’s almost as if he doesn’t know or doesn’t care that he’s doing this kind of work, and maybe enjoying it a little bit, but not all the time.

This, again, is the problem with the tone. It’s not to say that the movie switches into full on comedy, but there are times when the film is far too light considering the dark subject it’s focusing on.

There’s also the fact that half the movie is Earl going home after a run, learning about a local community need, such as the rundown VFW, and deciding to take another job. It repeats a few times and the film loses a lot of its steam here.

It’s not to say none of “The Mule” works. There are some good moments here. One stand out, for example, is a scene with Earl trying to reconcile with his wife Mary (Dianne West). Plus, as a crime drama, it has a certain level of entertainment value.

The talented cast also helps the movie as a whole. Eastwood is fine here. Not a career best, but solid work. Cooper is the same, he’s very consistent with good performances on screen and this is no different.

The rest of the acting is a little hit or miss though, and there’s the fact that some of the cast is wasted, most notably Laurence Fishburne who only shows up every 15 minutes to remind Cooper’s character that he needs to wrap up the investigation.

“The Mule” was another Clint Eastwood directed production and his experience does show. Overall “The Mule” is a competently made feature, with Eastwood’s direction elevating the production above more average crime film counterparts.

However, “The Mule” remains a lesser entry for Eastwood’s filmography. The cast and direction offer some legitimacy, but the story and tone just create too many pitfalls. 2 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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