The Mule review Clint Eastwood is back on the screen for the first time since 2014’s Trouble With The Curve for a film that immediately begs a question. Is this is swan song? He’s not said as much, but the subject matter and tone of The Mule inevitably makes you wonder.

The Mule trailer

On double duty – he’s directing as well – he’s showing that he hasn’t lost his touch, despite what we saw in The 15:17 To Paris, but this time gives us something more reflective and nostalgic. It could also be seen as a partner piece to Robert Redford’s The Old Man And The Gun. Both have elderly men at the heart of the narrative, each one doing a last job that’s decidedly illegal but which is served up to us as entertainment. Eastwood’s Earl, a 90 year old horticulturalist, has lost his business and home but unexpectedly finds a job making good use of his long distance driving experience – transporting packages. It’s only after a few trips that he decides to open one of them and discovers he’s a mule for a major drugs cartel. What he doesn’t realise is that the Drugs Enforcement Agency is closing in on him, and he’s fallen foul of his ruthless paymasters.

Not only does the plot echo Redford’s movie, but the tone is similar, leaning heavily on nostalgia through its music and Eastwood’s charming character. It’s not a word usually associated with the actor, but here he carries off Earl’s old-school patter with style: the ladies love him for it and he has a knack of smooth talking himself out of awkward situations, including a close shave with a traffic cop. Romance of the rueful kind is there in the shape of ex-wife Dianne Wiest, but the overall tone is one of regret and reflection. A man looking back at his past failings and trying to make up for them, and a film with a contemplative tone that goes with its star’s mature years.

Regardless of his motives, what Earl is doing is illegal, although it’s presented in an almost benign way, as a victim-less crime. We know it’s not, although we’re prepared to suspend out disbelief, but you can’t help but wonder how a younger Eastwood would have tackled this story. Chances are it would have been harder and edgier and it would have been another actor in the lead, with Clint as one of the agents on his tail. What Dirty Harry would have made of it all doesn’t bear thinking about.

This isn’t wholly a return to form for him as a director, but it certainly represents an upturn after his previous effort. Essentially a slim, gentle story with little in the way of tension – Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne and Michael Pena have very little to do as the DEA agents – it’s a captivating way of spending a couple of hours, with a nice line in pointing out the shortcomings of 21st century life. The Robin Hood aspect of Earl’s drug running means you want him to get away with it – hey, you just want to have more singalongs with him in the truck! And, despite all that charm, Clint still remains the anti-hero.

The Mule review by Freda Cooper, January 2019.

The Mule is released in cinemas on Friday 25th January.