Devin Carter, A&E Writer
What? You want more than that? Ok, here goes. And be warned: there are spoilers ahead.
I don’t hate Clint Eastwood. In fact, I have enjoyed a number of his films. And yet there is just something about him that keeps me from loving him the way that so many people seem to. Maybe it’s the not-so-great acting, or the constant growling, or simply the fact that I’ve seen as many Eastwood movies that I dislike or am indifferent towards as ones that I actually enjoy. But I will not deny the man his due credit. In my opinion, Unforgiven is one of the two or three greatest Westerns of all time, and his Million Dollar Baby is a wonderful, emotional film, despite my belief that it robbed Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind of the Best Picture Oscar.
As far as I was concerned, Eastwood was largely getting better with age. Gran Torino was when the streak he had been on started to come undone, as Eastwood largely portrayed a grumpy, racist old man who kinda-sorta changed his ways. Many people love Gran Torino, and it’s a fun watch, just as long as you don’t think belong the surface-level.
And then, for whatever reason, Eastwood got “patriotic”. I could write enough for five reviews concerning the atrocity that is American Sniper, and all of the lies and misleadings that are presented in that waste of two hours. And then, with the release of the critically underwhelming the 15:17 to Paris (which I have not seen), he furthered his attempt to flame the fire of ‘Merican egotism. Unlike American Sniper, nobody saw nor cared about this film. But all eyes were on The Mule, which has been touted as Eastwood’s swan song.
I went into The Mule basically expecting another Gran Torino, and at first I was pleasantly surprised. Instead of talking as if he was gurgling rocks, Eastwood spoke in an elderly, soft sort of way that was reminiscent of Jimmy Stewart. And instead of a “get off my lawn” type of character, he actually portrayed a more agreeable person. I was very happy with the direction Eastwood had taken with this film.
And then I reached minute #5, and the first (and most significant) problem with this movie reared its head: stupid, lazy writing. One of the most obvious signs of laziness in movies is when the exposition is spoken aloud without the audience actually seeing it. We’ve all seen movies that do this. “Susan is late again! She has been late to every family reunion for the last nine years! I should have known by now that I cannot rely on her!” Instead of having actors, you know, act, and instead of having characters do things to show us their situation and their struggles, some movies will instead just explain everything we need to know to us, as if just telling us will make us care.
The writing only got worse from here. Eastwood becomes estranged from his daughter because he somehow forgot her wedding, and years later has a shouting match with his ex-wife as they spill out more exposition about how he was never there for his family, what a deadbeat he is, etc. This happens at a wedding party for his granddaughter, who is making a diligent effort to include him in her life. And it should be noted that the film never really gives a reason for his granddaughter’s desire to associate with him, except for, I guess, the idea that family is worth it (but even then, they never really give that as a reason), and for the first part of the movie the adults act like children whenever they are around one another, which does not help us to get behind these people or to care about their plight.
I guess I should talk about the “running.” Eastwood gets recruited to be a drug runner at his granddaughter’s aforementioned party by somebody he does not even know (???) and goes on three drug runs for armed gangs until he realizes (gasp!) that he’s delivering drugs for a cartel. This is not just a poorly written movie, but its lead character is a nitwit. But he continues to run drugs, because he needs money for very important things, such as to reopen a dumpy restaurant he frequents, buy himself a new truck, and other selfish things like that. He goes on numerous runs, and is pursued by Bradley Cooper, whose character is comparable to bland wheat toast that is imitating solidly-written characters from great crime dramas. Eventually, after an hour of episodic runs, Eastwood becomes the most successful drug runner in the cartel, and he continues to act like an idiot in numerous situations, including trying to stir drama with one of the cartel’s top goons.
Somewhere along the way, he magically decides to care about his family, and he supports them through a crisis at the risk of his life. Where this change in character came from is as big of a mystery as the pyramids and Stonehenge… combined. And after grabbing “redemption” out of thin air, he is caught, imprisoned, and you’re watching the credits within ten minutes.
There is a masterpiece of stupidity that occurs around the halfway point of this movie that I have to explain, and this really helps illustrate just how poorly written this film is. Bradley Cooper’s character is hunting Eastwood, but doesn’t know his identity. He does know, however, that he drives a black pickup truck, and he finds out what hotel he is staying at for the night. Anybody with a brain would simply go to the hotel and run the plates on the trucks, or even get a fake movie warrant to search the inside of the trucks. Instead, Cooper ignores the vehicles in the parking lot and instead picks out a tough-looking man and stages an arrest on a random hunch that this man is running drugs. And once again the stupid old man gets away because the DEA agents are even more stupid than he is.
There is a great deal more I could say about the tragedy that is The Mule. I could pick on its picking up and dropping plot-lines, its loose ends, the logical inconsistencies and downright stupidity of the characters, but this review is long enough as is. I do want to bring up one final interesting aspect of this film. There are multiple scenes where Eastwood’s character spouts racial and bigoted comments about people based on their race and sexual orientation. These outbursts are played for laughs, and I’m not especially sensitive when it comes to words, but it got me thinking. Eastwood played a racist in Gran Torino, and that character’s racism was the focal point of the movie. Now, while not a major part of the character, he’s still spouting racial slurs ten years later. Why would he continue to go back to this sort of character unless it’s natural for him? I am not calling Clint Eastwood a racist- I don’t know the man. But I think these elements continuing to pop up in his films shows that he is out of touch in his works, and that it is now for the best that he calls it a career and retires from filmmaking. He’s had a good run, and has a lot to be proud of. But if he ever wants to try and make another movie, I think he should first consult Obama and his other invisible chair friends, because I don’t think that would be in his (or our) best interest.