The Mule is the latest in Clint Eastwood’s expansive repertoire of directorial forays, and the first he has starred in since 2008’s Gran Torino.

The film is an adaptation of an article from The New York Times (yes, that’s right, a newspaper article!) titled “The Sinoloa Cartel’s 90-Year Old Drug Mule” and follows the story of down-on-his-luck, 90-year-old Earl Stone (Eastwood), who finds himself as a – you guessed it – drug mule for a Mexican cartel in order to earn some extra cash.

The most impressive thing about The Mule’s story is just how competent and adaptive the character of Earl is to his situation. After having his horticulture farm foreclosed and his entire life literally packed into the back of his pickup truck, Earl manages to keep his cool and adapt to the world around him, finding a way to continue even at such a ripe age. In a sense, it feels analogous to Eastwood’s career.

At 88 years young, Eastwood continues to direct films that audiences flock to see and reaps critical acclaim, as well as managing to pull off some truly memorable performances, even if his acting credits are few and far between nowadays. The Mule might not be the most impressive and technically astounding work in Eastwood’s career, but his ability to keep a story engaging and cohesive remains ever-present, even at this late point in his career.

A notable distinction between The Mule and Eastwood’s underwhelming The 15:17 to Paris from last year (a film that used the real-life heroes that prevented a terrorist attack) is that the cast of experienced actors – including Bradley Cooper and Laurence Fishburne – allows him to focus more on the direction and his own performance, rather than attempting to coax good performances from non-professionals.

Unfortunately, the film’s third act plays out rather oddly. Some of the storylines feel prematurely cut and lack resolution, and much of the climactic arc of Earl’s character is hastily crammed in towards the tail end of the film without having been properly developed beforehand.

The Mule may not stand out as a shining gem in Clint Eastwood’s long history of hits, yet it’s a film that certainly tells an engaging story. Viva la Eastwood.

star-3In cinemas: January 24, 2019
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne
Directed by: Clint Eastwood