Film: “The Mule”; Director: Clint Eastwood; Cast: Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Lawrence Fishburne, Michael Pena, Dianne Wiest, Ignacio Serricchio, Andy Garcia, Alison Eastwood, Ray Hernandez, Lobo Sebastian, Manny Montana and Noel Gugliemi; Rating: **
At 90, Clint Eastwood mulishly clings to his legendary aura in “The Mule”. From the start of his illustrious career, this grand old man of American cinema has played loners, characters who would rather be left to themselves rather than in the company of people who would like to believe they know him.
In “The Mule”, Eastwood plays Earl Stone and guess what? He’s 90. No effort to fudge his age, a crime that all male superstars are guilty of. Earl is a man fighting off irrelevance and boredom by becoming a drug carrier.
That’s it. Nothing much happens once we know Earl’s big secret. We know Eastwood’s character is despised by his estranged wife (Dianne Wiest, a superb actress whom we are delighted to see after a long gap). She spares no effort to remind him of how callous he has been to the family. Beyond these cursory details, the film probes none of those mortal insecurities which would make a law-abiding man turn to crime at the end of life.
Surprisingly, in spite of its 90-year protagonist, “The Mule” is not a meditation on mortality. Whether you wish to regard this absence of rumination to be a virtue or not is entirely a matter of choice. As far as Eastwood’s character is concerned, death can go fly a kite with Mary Poppins.
Eastwood has always played variations of himself on-screen. This time he is playing a version of the sulky star who probably turns down requests for selfies from fans. What’s surprisingly is the presence here of Bradley Cooper during a year when he has attained a new level of stardom in “A Star Is Born”, appearing in “The Mule” as a cop in pursuit of a drug cartel.
It is a role as trite as the one played by Ranvir Shorey in the recent web series “Rangbaaz”. And Cooper does nothing to elevate the character from his cesspool of boredom.
This is a film that does nothing for its accomplished actors except to remind them that being part of a film made strictly to humour its leading man’s penchant for self renewal (in one particularly embarrassing sequence, Eastwood, all of 90, is seen making out with two young women who evidently enjoy the kink before the sink) is a tenable place to be in. Even if the audience doesn’t quite agree with you.