'The Mule' review: Consider the courier

'The Mule' review: Consider the courier

A still from 'The Mule'.

The Mule

English (A)

Director: Clint Eastwood

Cast: Clint Eastwood, Taissa Farmiga, Bradley Cooper

Rating: 2.5 (out of 5 stars)

Earl Stone (Clint Eastwood) is a 90-year-old hotshot horticulturist. When the Internet arrives and steals all his business, he is invited by his granddaughter’s friend to work as a transporter for a Mexican drug cartel.

Based on a true account of Leo Sharp’s years with the famous Sinaloa Cartel, The Mule is the story of an award-winning lily-breeder who becomes one of the most successful drug couriers in the region.

It is always strange to watch a film that doesn’t tell you why it was made. It is stranger when it still works. The very character of Earl rejects analysis and explanation. No one knows why he has abandoned his family many times over, but it’s difficult to hate him for it; no one knows why he is uncommonly kind to strangers, and it’s unremarkable when he is. He’s strictly politically incorrect, but the first to help an African-American family change a car tyre, or rescue his Mexican colleagues from a racist white cop in El Paso, Texas.

Odder still, is Earl’s relationship with his ex-wife, Mary, who later reveals that “You were the love of my life, and the pain of my life.” As they alternately sing the lyrics to Spiral Staircase’s "I love you more than yesterday/but not as much as tomorrow”, you’re surprised that the moment is not as cringey as it ought to be. You could say that Earl must be understood in his time, but that doesn’t explain why you’re willing to watch a two-hour film about him.

There’s a scene in Mona Lisa Smile in which Katherine Watson (Julia Roberts) shows her scoffing students a Jackson Polluck painting, and says, “You are not required to write a paper about it. You’re not even required to like it. You are required to consider it.”

The Mule is not a story about a man who changes over time. It’s not even thrilling in the way Narcos is. But it does carry you gently through a story you don’t necessarily understand, and reminds you that the stories you don’t like, exist anyway, and are very real.