The Mule review

THE MULE

Director : Clint Eastwood
Cast : Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Michael Peña, Laurence Fishburne, Allison Eastwood, Taissa Farmiga, Dianne Wiest, Andy García, Clifton Collins Jr., Eugene Cordero, Noel Gugliemi
Genre : Crime/Drama/Mystery
Run Time : 1 h 56 mins
Opens : 10 January 2019
Rating : M18

Clint Eastwood is 88-years-old and has been working steadily since the 50s, so it makes sense that some of his recent films deal with aging. In this drama, his character’s old age is an asset, because it makes him less suspicious – as a drug mule.

Eastwood plays Earl Stone, a nonagenarian horticulturist and Vietnam War veteran who has fallen on hard times after his house and farm is foreclosed upon. Earl is estranged from his family, including his ex-wife Mary (Dianne Wiest), his daughter Iris (Alison Eastwood) and his granddaughter Ginny (Taissa Farmiga). Earl comes across what he thinks will be a one-off opportunity as a drug runner for a Mexican cartel. Because the work is easy and pays extremely well, Earl finds himself coming back, unexpectedly becoming one of the cartel’s top mules.

DEA Agents Colin Bates (Bradley Cooper) and Trevino (Michael Peña) learn through an informant about a mule the cartel refers to as “Tata”, Spanish for “grandfather”. The deliveries are being brought into Chicago, with the agents closing in on the elusive mule. Back in Mexico, cartel kingpin Laton (Andy García) is pleased with Earl’s performance, but his lieutenants are spooked by the increasing DEA activity, taking issue with Earl’s penchant for unscheduled stops. Earl knows his successful run working for the cartel cannot last forever and faces the inevitable: he will either be killed by cartel enforcers or captured by the DEA.

The Mule is based on an article in The New York Times by Sam Dolnick, entitled The Sinaloa Cartel’s 90-Year-Old Drug Mule. Eastwood and screenwriter Nick Schenk, who got his big break penning Eastwood’s Gran Torino, have taken loose inspiration from the life of Leo Sharp, a World War II veteran who became a drug runner for the cartel run by El Chapo. Eastwood’s presence as director, producer and star means that it’s obvious that he has projected himself onto the Earl Stone character, who is drawn as a well-meaning, good-hearted man who just isn’t properly appreciated by his family and winds up doing bad things even though he is not a bad person.

Eastwood is too in love with the character, who functions as an avatar of himself, for the movie to accomplish very much. Having directed 34 movies, Eastwood more than knows what he’s doing on the technical front and draws out good performances from his talented cast. However, he is squarely the centre of attention. Earl berates younger people for constantly being on their smartphones and functions as a stubborn guardian of a bygone age, an old-fashioned stalwart who doesn’t get the respect he deserves. He also has at least two threesomes with prostitutes, scenes which one imagines Eastwood doing multiple takes of just to be sure.

Cooper and Peña are given underwritten roles, but Cooper does get one good scene set in a Waffle House in which he gets to do a bit more than chase after Clint Eastwood. Dianne Wiest is the standout in the cast as Earl’s ex-wife, who harbours less ill-will towards Earl than his daughter Iris (played by Eastwood’s real daughter Alison) but who still wishes things could’ve been different. The skill with which Wiest conveys quiet sadness ensures the relationship is not overly treacly.

The scenes in which Earl is friendly towards the cartel members lower on the ladder who warm to him are quite endearing. Both Andy García and Laurence Fishburne are on hand to lend additional gravitas in relatively small roles as a cartel boss and a senior DEA agent respectively.

The Mule is not an instant classic the way some of Eastwood’s films are, and it is more obviously a vanity project than several other late-period Eastwood movies. There are moments when it’s charming and the Earl Stone character is not the worst person to spend a couple of hours with, but the movie fundamentally lacks any urgency or drive. The moments of tension, when it feels like Earl’s Faustian bargain is catching up to him, are too few and far between. It is ultimately saved by the compelling nature of the true story and Eastwood’s unquestionable competence as a director but is not one of the more essential entries in his oeuvre.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

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Triple 9

For F*** Magazine

TRIPLE 9

Director : John Hillcoat
Cast : Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Clifton Collins Jr., Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus, Kate Winslet, Woody Harrelson, Gal Gadot, Teresa Palmer
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 115 mins
Opens : 17 March 2016
Rating : M18 (Coarse Language, Nudity and Violence)

Out on the streets, it’s never black and white – though sometimes it is red, owing to the dye packs that permanently stain stole cash. Oh, the red is also often blood. Criminals Michael Atwood (Ejiofor), Russell Welch (Reedus) and his brother Gabe (Paul), along with corrupt cops Marcus Belmont (Mackie) and Franco Rodriguez (Collins), have been committing armed bank robberies. The crew is working for Irina Vlaslov (Winslet), the wife of a powerful Russian Mafioso. Michael has a son with Irina’s sister Elena (Gadot), further complicating matters. To pull off another job, Marcus and Franco suggest calling in a code “999”, i.e. killing a cop to distract the rest of the police force so the crew can break into a government office and steal data concerning Irina’s husband. Their target is Chris Allen (Affleck), Marcus’ new partner who has transferred from a different district. Chris’ uncle happens to be Sgt. Det. Jeffrey Allen (Harrelson), who is tracking down the bank robbers. The stage is set for all-out war on the streets of Atlanta, Georgia.

            First off, we would like to get that “oh, this stars James Lye, Wong Li-Lin, Lim Yu Beng and Mark Richmond” joke out of the way. If you were watching Singaporean television in the 90s, you know what we’re talking about. Anyway, Triple 9’s screenplay, written by Matt Cook, landed on the 2010 Black List of most-liked scripts making the rounds in Hollywood and has finally been produced. At the helm is John Hillcoat, who directed the revisionist western The Proposition and the prohibition-era bootlegging drama Lawless. Triple 9 is a scuzzy, grimy crime thriller which liberally borrows from the likes of Training Day and Heat. The action sequences are messy and frenzied; our protagonists are mostly criminals who don’t get along; we deal with the theme of honour (or lack thereof) among thieves and there’s an abundance of street-level violence.

            There are many points where Triple 9’s plot feels like it comes straight out of a direct-to-DVD action flick starring 50 Cent and a pre-Mr. Robot Christian Slater. Hillcoat has managed to assemble an impressive cast and it’s impossible not to have high expectations looking the list, which comprises an Oscar winner, Oscar nominees and dependable character actors. Sometimes, seeing a name actor covered in tattoos and scars, all sweaty and grimacing while toting a gun, can feel like we’re just watching a pampered star play dress-up. For the most part, Triple 9does feel fairly authentic, with the city of Atlanta actually getting to play itself instead of doubling for some other locale. Nothing feels prettied up, nothing’s slick and shiny and the situations are overblown but not ludicrously so.

            As the straight-arrow rookie with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, Affleck is well cast and a scene in which Chris threatens a local Cartel bigwig without knowing what he’s getting into does demonstrate that the character is out of his element. Unfortunately, Ejiofor is harder to buy as a tough-talking thug. He has played sinister characters before, but he’s unable to fully shake off that innate nobility that has served him so well in other, very different roles. It comes with the territory of crime movies, but the members of the team are insufficiently distinct and can blur together after a while. Of the group, Collins is actually the most convincing as the unscrupulous, two-faced Rodriguez. Unfortunately, Paul and Reedus don’t bring too much to the table beyond “hey, Jesse Pinkman and Daryl Dixon are brothers!”

            Winslet chomps the drab scenery as the main villain of the piece, a stereotypical mob wife who’s been handed the reins of underworld power while her husband sits it out in a Russian prison. It’s a character even more ridiculously evil than Jeanine Matthews in Divergent and Insurgent. Gadot and Palmer are there to strut about in abbreviated outfits, providing eye candy and doing little else. Harrelson also doesn’t get a chance to work his offbeat, quirky charm in a role that could’ve been played by pretty much anyone.

            Triple 9 is a disappointingly generic crime flick that is elevated ever so slightly by its formidable cast. Not too much of a spin is put on the crime thriller formula and the would-be shocking twists and turns in the last act fail to have much impact at all. Hillcoat keeps things moving along and consciously avoids stretches of exposition, but that has the side effect of making the connections between the characters a little confusing to keep track of. At 115 minutes, it’s also a mite too long and could do with some tightening up. But if you’ve a taste for this sort of thing, you’ll probably find Triple 9 to be a competent thriller set on the mean, mean streets.



Summary:It fails to live up to the expectations generated by that cast list, but Triple 9 has enough brutal thrills and cops-and-robbers intrigue to scrape by.

RATING: 3out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong