The Mule drives in the slow lane and nearly gets a flat tyre. This is a major step up from Eastwood's previous directorial efforts with the absurdly boring 'The 15:17 to Paris'. A cast of talented actors, including himself, and a premise that becomes instantly accessible for audiences. But there was something missing. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but the back of my mind was screaming at me. And then I realised. I was watching, but not seeing. Nothing in this film was dramatic enough for me to become invested which ultimately left me unsatisfied. Recounting the true story of a war veteran naively becoming a drug courier for a Mexican cartel, whilst DEA agents attempt to track him down.
There is poignancy to the character that Eastwood embodies and the story he attempts to direct. Finding resolution with the family that he never went to see, and with himself as a person. Presenting an argument that change is always possible, no matter the circumstance. Sometimes we need to take the wheel and control our own lives. However, due to the light-hearted nature of the narrative, this compelling philosophy never sticks. In fact, there is an obscene lack of dramatic heft that ultimately makes this drama underwhelming. He tries though! Gosh darn Eastwood gives it his best shot. At 88 years of age, the man is defying all odds and still helming his own films. He has this infectious charm and "old-man" quality to him that automatically makes us believe in him. And, let's be honest, only Eastwood could portray a casually racist veteran and still make him endearing. The rest of the cast? Forgettable. Their characters were neglected and remained one-dimensional. The DEA investigation was underdeveloped and provided no thrills. The dysfunctional family relationships with Earl weren't powerful enough to convey any emotional impact. Heck, I felt more invested in the cartel members than I did his ex-wife. Without the drama, none of the above sticks. Like I said, watching but not seeing.
Schenk's screenplay does play a big role in this film's disappointing end result. Aside from the last third where Earl's words do have meaning, it's just constant mumbling. "Yup, on the road again. Just on the highway. Just driving. Hey boys! I'm driving. How do I text?". It's clear that the target demographic is of the older generation who will find many of these lines utterly hilarious, particularly the "dykes on a bike" scene. But it's perhaps too light-hearted for the story that Eastwood is trying to convey. There is no grit to his character or his words. Not to mention the plot conveniences that make the script amateurish at best, especially how Earl quickly found himself in the drug couriering industry just because "I never had any tickets and I've never been pulled over by the cops. No sir!". It's naively charming, but naive regardless. Much like Eastwood, the whole film just felt tired.
It's a pleasant slow watch which I'm sure many will appreciate from the legendary Eastwood. However its repetitious drug runs and absent drama will leave some wanting to pull over and stop, particularly by the ninth run. Oh, and a 90-year old man in a threesome with two women? I had to look away...