Signs of a generational change in Hollywood were very evident in 2018. It seemed most apparent in the fading away of industry icons like Stan Lee, Penny Marshall, William Goldman and the acting retirements of Robert Redford and Clint Eastwood. Really, it is hard imagining never seeing those people on the big screen again.
The Mule is Eastwood’s acting swan song. It is interesting that both he and Redford picked final projects where mortality, regrets, and sizing up one’s life were the themes. It is natural that when one sees the end of the road, they look back to see how far they’ve traveled.
In The Mule, Eastwood plays a 90 y.o. man who takes to being a drug mule to get himself out of the financial ruin he’s encountered at the end of his life. The experience helps him bloom personally, and he manages to share his new wealth with causes he cares about like his granddaughter’s education and the local VFW.
Onscreen, Eastwood is showing his age. He fits this part but I think he’d have trouble with other roles in the future. I write that with sadness because there was always a gruff, macho, aspect to his characters that made him standout.
This movie isn’t his greatest project - how could you beat The Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby? - nor is it his worse. There are shades of Grand Torino in the plot but really, this is an interesting twist on a standard crime caper. You sorta know what to expect but Eastwood’s presence keeps it interesting.
One aspect I didn’t like about the movie was the way racial stereotypes were used. This repeats a pattern used in Grand Torino but in that film it was interwoven into the story in a such a way that it seemed essential to what was going on. Here it does not. In fact, the racial slurs and insults seemed to be tossed in just to wake the audience up. They were meant for laughs but the comedy falls flat. And in these times, the thud was more pronounced than usual.
Outside of that, it was worth paying the price to see a legend’s farewell performance. This movie gets a 4 of 5 on the rating scale. I thought I’d list my five top Eastwood Films here. I always liked him better as a director than actor so I include both categories. 1. The Unforgiven 2. Million Dollar Baby 3. Mystic River 4. Invictus 5. Letters From Iwo Jima. Critically, not his best, but my guilty pleasure film of his would be Pale Rider.