Clint East­wood car­ries ‘The Mule’

The Herald-Sun (Sunday) - - Movie Review -

Clint East­wood is the Hol­ly­wood equiv­a­lent of the en­gine that could: Quite ad­mirably, he just keeps go­ing and go­ing. And at an age where it might be chal­leng­ing enough just to di­rect a movie, he also still puts him­self front-and­cen­ter as its star.

“The Mule” is the lat­est of those ex­er­cises, and it gives East­wood a great char­ac­ter: a se­nior cit­i­zen whose per­sonal life is on the ropes, to put it mildly, but he finds sur­pris­ing redemption and fi­nan­cial suc­cess for him­self in be­com­ing a drug trans­porter – or a “mule” – for a Mex­i­can car­tel.

Where this be­comes much more than a stan­dard crime drama is in the role and how East­wood plays it. Re­grets? This man has had a few ... ac­tu­ally, many more than a few, es­pe­cially where his long-ne­glected ex-wife and daugh­ter are con­cerned. The daugh­ter is played by East­wood’s own off­spring Ali­son, giv­ing their scenes together an au­then­tic­ity you can’t buy.

Past East­wood col­leagues Lau­rence Fish­burne and Bradley Cooper resur­face as DEA agents who even­tu­ally get clued into the old-timer’s ac­tiv­i­ties, and Dianne Wi­est has some heart­break­ing mo­ments as the ex-wife. How­ever, there’s no doubt that “The Mule” be­longs to East­wood, and what’s es­pe­cially im­pres­sive and grat­i­fy­ing is that he know­ingly uses it to let his im­age show some wear and tear.

Those with de­grees in psy­chi­a­try might spec­u­late how much the Hol­ly­wood vet­eran wants his lat­est al­ter ego to mir­ror the ef­fects of the lengthy ca­reer run he’s had him­self. For view­ers, this might just be the most vul­ner­a­ble East­wood has al­lowed him­self to be seen since “The Bridges of Madi­son County” – and that’s al­most a 25-year gap.

Even in re­cent films that he’s only di­rected, such as “The 15:17 to Paris,” brawn and bravado have been the qual­i­ties mostly in the spot­light. With “The Mule,” East­wood gets a lot more per­sonal on a very ba­sic, hu­man level ... and it’s some­what en­dear­ing to see that from the man who has given pop cul­ture such leg­en­dar­ily steely images as those of The Man With No Name and “Dirty” Harry Cal­la­han.

With “The Mule,” East­wood gen­er­ates a story and a char­ac­ter that keep you com­pelled and in­trigued to find out how things will end up. That means ev­ery­thing in what prin­ci­pally is a two-hour por­trait of a sin­gle fig­ure, con­firm­ing that its driv­ing force isn’t done mak­ing the day of movie­go­ers just yet.

Dianne Wi­est and Clint East­wood

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