The trailer for The Mule (2018) promised a suspenseful story of a man who’s spent his life as a drug mule with the need to finish one more job. However, the film itself is far more melodramatic than expected and features a number of scenes that feel pointless or expositional. While moments of the film are enjoyable, it fails to achieve the simplicity of the story sold in the trailers.
The Mule has moments that can easily pull you in or push you out
Earl Stone (Clint Eastwood) has always put his work with the flowers he grew ahead of everything else. Now that his business has gone under as a result of his refusal to adapt with the times, Earl finds himself alone and without a purpose. A new opportunity that utilizes his clean driving record and passion for road trips presents itself, and Earl finds himself the unlikely candidate for being a drug mule for a Mexican cartel.
However, it is also supposed to be a story of Colin Bates (Bradley Cooper), who is an up-and-coming DEA agent looking to make a major bust to better his name for himself. The film cuts back and forth between Earl and Colin, whose story is inherently intertwined. Most of the scenes featuring Colin and unnamed partner (played by a severely underused Michael Peña) are generic, and merely serve to move the story forward. If anything, the DEA storyline is used as comic relief, as they are hunting the stereotypical drug mule while Earl’s seems to be on an easy journey. There are almost no close calls, and any thought of tension basically goes out the truck’s window as Earl sings “I’ve been everywhere Man.”
To make this mediocre movie worse is the depiction of Earl’s passive racism. He’s not a person who won’t interact with other races, but he definitely doesn’t understand what is appropriate. He refers to a young black family as “negroes”, and later his handler’s from the cartel as “beaners”. The bad part is these moments are primarily played for humor, as though his ignorance to proper behavior is cute. It didn’t sit right with me, and the people in my screening who laughed hardily at his blunt, unfiltered racial slurs didn’t help the movie’s case that Earl is an empathetic character.
The major arc in this film seems to be a redemption story of sorts. Earl has many regrets, and as he slowly attempts to right the many wrongs his past obsessions led him to make, it seems we should feel for him. The poor old guy has not one but two scenes in the film that clearly depict him having a threesome with younger women. He initially seems unaware of what he is transporting…but once that element of innocence is removed, he continues doing the job. Add in the passive racism, and he becomes a fairly unlikeable character, not really earning much of the empathy the film wants us to have by its end.
There are plenty of scenes that could be pointed out as having no point or feeling like another scene had been cut that would have given it context. Either way, The Mule isn’t very good. It’s not unenjoyable, though, as the pace is engaging and there are several moments (that don’t include racial slurs) that can elicit laughs from the audience. Ultimately, The Mule earns the Not a Total Waste of Time rating.