A surprise box office success in the US, Clint Eastwood's latest film as director and star reveals a film-maker and actor who can still deliver the goods, even if those goods can often feel pretty old-fashioned, even obsolete at times.
Inspired by a New York Times article about a 90-year-old drug mule, the film tells the tale of an ageing botanist named Earl Stone who has a strained relationship with his ex-wife (Dianne Wiest) and daughter (Alison Eastwood), thanks partly to all the time he spent on the road as a travelling flower salesman.
That time travelling also makes him a prime recruit to transport drugs across the country for a Mexican cartel, a job he takes without hesitation in the face of financial ruin. His drug-smuggling methods are unconventional, yet effective, and that attracts the attention of the cartel boss (Andy Garcia), and an ambitious DEA agent (Bradley Cooper).
As in 2008's Gran Torino (with whom this film shares a screenwriter, Nick Schenk) Eastwood displays an awareness of his status as a man out of touch with the modern world, and The Mule leans into that persona as a vehicle for both conflict and humour.
This results in some pretty cringey scenes in which Earl interacts with members of certain minority groups, but it also shows that Eastwood is at his best when he's exploring the familial and personal impact of an increasingly outmoded kind of masculinity.
Although there's a spare, basic quality to The Mule, it remains undeniably watchable throughout and generates some degree of tension. Clint has cinema in his veins, and it shows here.
Clint Eastwood, Dianne Wiest, Bradley Cooper
M (Offensive language and nudity)
Soft, bland cinematic comfort food.