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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Sully

For F*** Magazine

SULLY

Cast : Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Anna Gunn, Autumn Reeser, Holt McCallany, Jerry Ferrara, Sam Huntington
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 1h 36min
Opens : 8 September 2016
Rating : PG13 (Some Coarse Language)

sully-posterClint Eastwood takes us behind the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ in this biopic. On the morning of January 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 is making a routine trip from New York City to Charlotte, North Carolina. When bird strikes cripple both engines, the plane comes in for an emergency water landing on the Hudson River, with all 155 souls on board miraculously surviving. At the controls are pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Hanks) and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles (Eckhart). Sully is vaunted in the press as a hero and becomes an overnight sensation, but the attention and scrutiny prove overwhelming for him and his wife Lorraine (Linney). The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concludes that according to simulations, Sully could have safely landed the plane back at LaGuardia Airport, calling his judgement into question and putting his career and reputation on the line.

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It’s easy to see why the public gravitated to the story of the Miracle on the Hudson: it was harrowing but ended well, it was a glimmer of good news amidst the usual barrage of negativity, and an endearing everyday hero was at its centre. But is there enough to the story to sustain a feature film? As it turns out, barely. At 96 minutes, Sully is shorter than your average ‘based-on-a-true-story’ drama, but even then, it feels padded out. The film quickly becomes repetitive, and the portrayal of Sully’s self-doubt lacks nuance. Todd Komarnicki’s screenplay trades in caricatures, and while we see what he’s going for with a scene in which a bartender excitedly pours Sully a cocktail he’s concocted in the pilot’s honour, it makes the true story come off as cartoony. A few passengers are highlighted in a folksy ‘aw shucks’ manner; these moments feel like they belong in a TV movie than an awards season film.

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The main selling point of the film apart from its director and star is the re-enactment of the dramatic water landing. The sequence, shot with the new Alexa IMAX cameras, has an appropriate graveness and tension to it, even if the moment of impact itself looks a little like it’s a cut-scene in a video game. Eastwood does an effective job of putting the audience in the cockpit as the situation unspools, but perhaps there’s something questionable about taking an almost-tragedy and turning it into big-screen spectacle. There’s merit to the argument that because it all ended well for everyone on board, nobody will take offense with this depiction, but it can also be argued that Sully is trading on disaster in a similar way to Titanic. Beyond that, there are distasteful, oblique visual references to 9/11 that seem manipulative in trying to elicit emotion through association with the terrorist attack.

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It’s hard to go too wrong when Tom Hanks is the de-facto heart of your movie. The actor brings his trademark affability to bear as an unassuming pilot whose world is shaken by a close call on the job, followed by equal amounts of hero worship and second-guessing. The world fell in love with the earnestness, graciousness, work ethic and humility displayed by Sully in the aftermath of the Hudson landing, and moviegoers in general have already fallen in love with Hanks. He suits the role despite bearing only the slightest passing resemblance to the real-life Sully, even with the white hair and moustache. It’s something of an obvious casting choice and while it might have been more interesting to see an actor who isn’t as established a ‘likeable everyman’ as Hanks take on the role, Hanks does an expectedly fine job with it.

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The conventionally-handsome Eckhart is a different brand of all-American than Hanks is, and they end up complementing each other nicely. Skiles received what some might say is a disproportionately small amount of the credit, but the working relationship and friendship between the two does brim with positivity. Because Eckhart looks more like the hero who would be landing the plane in a Hollywood action movie, it further accentuates the ‘unlikely hero’ quotient Hanks’ Sully has going for him.

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Linney’s abilities as an actress aren’t stretched very far, with Lorraine portrayed as little more than the stock worried wife back home. By design, the NTSB panellists are faceless suits, bureaucracy incarnate, their impersonality serving as a contrast to Sully’s humanness.

Sully is respectable in its own right, but the emotional heft present in the best biopics is lacking here. As the story was extensively covered by the media, we’re familiar with the broad strokes. While there’s some insight to be gleaned from the film and the procedural aspect is easy to follow, it’s nothing that’s remarkably revelatory. Sully is more like a single-engine Cessna than a commercial jetliner: airworthy but slight.

Summary: Tom Hanks’ dignified and likeable performance lifts Sully above the waters of mediocrity.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars    

Jedd Jong