Clint’s still going strong at 88 not out by Richard Jones

MuleA look at The Mule (R)

Summer’s the time of year when I seem to watch a heap of late evening re-runs on the Fox Classics TV movie channel.

As a dedicated Clint Eastwood fan I’ve seen a host of his Westerns over and over again: A Fistful Of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Joe Kidd and High Plains Drifter just to name a few.

Then along came Academy Awards winner Unforgiven directed by, and starring, Clint when he was 62 in the early 90s and the one when he stepped away from gun-slinging and played a retired auto assembly worker in Gran Torino (2008). Not to overlook Play Misty For Me from the early Seventies.

Now comes his latest starring 88-year-old Eastwood as a 90-something drug courier or ‘mule’. He fits into the age bracket perfectly. It will probably end up on Fox Classics, too, but we saw it in a local cinema on a boiling hot summer afternoon. Eastwood is struggling horticulturalist and flower farmer Earl Stone whose business is facing foreclosure with the urgent need to find some money somewhere, urgently. And even though he seems to run a reasonably large nursery day lilies are his main specialty. He’s a bit of a ‘rock star’ at regular day lily conventions in his home town in Illinois.

He’s never been a good family man missing anniversaries with his wife (Dianne Wiest), plus the wedding of his daughter Iris (Clint’s real-life daughter Alison Eastwood) although his grand-daughter (Taissa Farmiga) is far more forgiving.

Out of the blue one day while he’s considering his future a Mexican-born mate of one of his workers makes Earl an offer he can’t refuse. Transport some ‘cargo and merchandise’ for a group of El Paso-based friends back up the 1700 miles to the Mid-West and make a handy wage. Off he goes in his barely roadworthy old pick-up truck and makes the first changeover. But can Earl have been so naïve and unworldly – he hates ‘the Internet’ – that he doesn’t check what’s in the sports sacks and duffle bags in the back of the truck until about the third or fourth run?

Of course he finds blocks and blocks of cocaine, but by then he’s traded in the old banger and bought a shiny black, brand new truck for his runs to El Paso and back. Meanwhile Federal agents of the DEA, headed by Bates (Bradley Cooper) and Trevino (Michael Pena) under their boss (Laurence Fishburne), are hot on the trail of the Mexican-born drug cartel lords.

They make a couple of minor arrests helped by an informer of Filipino background who Bates incorrectly refers to as ‘Mexican’. The nervous informer knows about the El Paso-Illinois trail but not in any great detail nor who’s making the runs. While the DEA agents are getting closer and closer Earl Stone finally meets the man he‘s really been working for: Laton (Andy Garcia).

Cartel boss Laton lives in a well-guarded mansion, uses a custom-made solid gold shotgun for target practice and arranges for two of his many ‘pool girls’ to visit Earl in his room at night.

Interestingly, apart for his disdain for anything Internet-based and up-to-date (he has to be taught how to send texts on an i-Phone) Earl’s a bit xenophobic. Stopping one time in the middle of nowhere to help a couple with their flat tyre he refers to them as “Negroes”.

“We’re African Americans,” retorts the clearly well-to-do middle class couple.

Earl also refers to his Mexican handlers and up-the-line gunmen with other racially-based jibes but then again he’s 90 and those epithets have been part of his vocabulary since the World War 2 and Korean War eras.

You’d think his friends and horticulturalist mates back home in Illinois must have pondered, maybe even asked him, about his new-found wealth. Earl paid for the re-furbishment and interior design work on a friend’s closed-down bar and dance hall and was considering having the ice rink down the street fixed up. And that was after taking back his house and nursery, tossing the big ‘Foreclosure’ sign into the bushes.

Gradually the agents close in on their main target – Laton’s mule who has never, ever had even a minor traffic infringement during his lengthy driving career – and Eastwood’s film closes with the court scene and a final shot of Earl Stone tending his lilies behind his prison’s massive barbed-wire fence.

The Mule is based on the true story of 90-year-old drug courier Leo Sharp featured in a big story in the New York Times magazine not so long ago.

The movie didn’t rate highly with most of the movie critics, my wife included. But as an Eastwood aficianado I disagreed, although it probably won’t make it onto the Fox Classics channel until about 2025 when I may be past sitting up late into the night to catch it.

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