The Reel Review
Desperate and on the brink of financial ruin, 90-year-old Illinois horticulturist Earl Stone becomes an unlikely drug mule in this drama based on the true story of Leo Sharp, a WWII veteran who, in his 80s, became the oldest and most prolific drug runner for Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel for more than a decade. As Stone spends his ill-gotten cash earned from driving kilos of cocaine across the country on his estranged family and renovating the local VFW hall, he finds himself in growing danger – from both the cartel and the DEA.
The Mule marks 88-year-old actor/director Clint Eastwood’s first acting role since 2008’s Gran Torino – both written by Nick Schenk. This relatively low key morality tale is ideally tailored to Eastwood – a gruff character robbed of his youth, feeling neglected by the present, and wanting to right his past wrongs towards his family. Casting is spot-on – from Bradley Cooper as the DEA agent, Andy Garcia as the Mexican drug lord and in particular, Dianne Wiest, whom is outstanding as his dying ex-wife, frustrated over his run of bad life choices. And while the clunky screenplay itself is not quite up to par as some of his past Oscar-heralded films such as Unforgiven, Letters from Iwo Jima, Million Dollar Baby and American Sniper, Eastwood’s efficient direction and disarming, cranky old man humor, along with that strong supporting cast, elevates a frustratingly sluggish story that often feels more like a lazy, Sunday afternoon drive than a crime thriller.
• The release of The Mule and The 15:17 to Paris this year marks the eighth time that Eastwood has released two films he directed in the same year.
• Leo Sharp, the world’s oldest drug mule on whom the movie is based, served only one year in federal prison before being released in 2015 due to declining health. “El Tata,” as he was affectionately known, died a year later at the age of 92.
• The Mule also features southeastern New Mexico’s White Sands National Monument, which, at 275 square miles, is the world’s largest gypsum sand dunes, and was also featured in the 1968 Clint Eastwood classic Western, Hang ‘Em High