Tuesday 17 September 2019

The Mule ★★★★☆

Back in 2008, my father and I went to see Gran Torino at the cinema together. I remember it so clearly – we thought we were sharing a slice of cinema history together. Clint Eastwood’s final film, as it was marketed, on the big screen. Something that our years of watching Clint’s films at home together had been building up to. What a moment. 11 years later, I’m older, more cynical and bitter. And I’m reviewing Clint’s latest. If you’d told me 11 years ago he’d still be bashing out films in 2019, I would’ve told you to fuck off.

Based on the you-couldn’t-make-it-up true story of Leo Sharp, the film follows the so-called “Sinaloa Cartel’s 90 Year Old Drug Mule” as he is hunted down by the DEA. Broke, alone and facing foreclosure on his business, our ageing hero (Clint Eastwood, obviously) takes a job as a drug courier for a Mexican cartel. His immediate success leads to easy money and a larger shipment that soon draws the attention of hard-charging DEA agent Colin Bates (Bradley Cooper). When Earl's past mistakes start to weigh heavily on his conscience, he must decide whether to right those wrongs before law enforcement and cartel thugs catch up to him.

First up, let’s talk about Clint. The man is showing his age, bless him. He looks so old now, it’s hard to believe he was once having stand-offs with Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach in The Good, The Bad & The Ugly. But behind those eyes, you can see it. You can see his entire life, career and pain. This is a very strong asset in Clint’s later performances and here, he is the best he’s been in some time. While on the surface, it isn’t a particularly new role for him – a scowling, gruff old racist – there is certainly something there. This is a role that would be perfect for Clint to bow out on; hell, his character even says “this is the last one” repeatedly in the film’s trailer, perhaps as something of a warning that it is his swansong? I doubt it, we all thought that 11 years ago. But regardless, it would certainly be an interesting way to end your career – as a 90-year-old drug mule. 

The supporting cast here is pretty stellar too – Bradley Cooper delivers a performance that is every bit as good as his Oscar-nominated work in A Star is Born, albeit far more understated. As the obsessed DEA agent on Clint’s tail, he is a man possessed by justice. He portrays just as much pain and desperation as Clint does in the lead, and the two make a brilliant cat & mouse pair. One scene in particular in a diner is just as tense and exciting as the iconic coffee shop scene in Michael Mann’s 90s thriller Heat. The film’s almost colourless visuals reflect the film’s themes of darkness, desperation and a greying moral centre – and the cinematography by Yves Bélanger is hauntingly beautiful.

On the whole, The Mule is a damn fine little surprise that is far stronger than I think anyone was expecting. The world panicked when Clint announced he was acting again in a drugs thriller, but the result is a surprisingly poignant study on old age and the lengths we go to in desperate times. I thoroughly enjoyed the film and hope this is indeed Clint’s farewell – what a way to go out.

Sam Love

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