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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Sisters

For F*** Magazine

SISTERS

Director : Jason Moore
Cast : Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Ike Barinholtz, Maya Rudolph, Dianne Wiest, James Brolin, John Cena, Madison Davenport, Greta Lee, John Leguizamo, Bobby Moynihan
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 118 mins
Opens : 17 March 2016
Rating : NC-16 (Sexual Humour And Drug Use)

“All kinds of weather, we stick together/The same in the rain and sun” – so crooned Rosemary Clooney in the song Sisters from White Christmas. In this movie, comedy duo Amy Poehler and Tina Fey play Maura and Kate Ellis respectively, sisters who return to their childhood home in Orlando after many years. The sisters’ parents (Wiest and Brolin) have decided to sell the house, much to both daughters’ chagrin. The freewheeling Kate coaxes Maura into helping her throw one last blowout party at their house, affectionately nicknamed “Ellis Island”. The many guests who show up include James (Barinholtz), a handyman whom Maura has developed a crush on; slacker Dave (Leguizamo) and his drug dealer Pazuzu (Cena), socially-awkward jokester Alex (Moynihan) and Kate’s high school nemesis Brinda (Rudolph). As the bash spirals out of control, Kate’s teenage daughter Haley (Davenport) learns of her mother’s irresponsible behaviour and with her grandparents, attempts to intervene.

            The mechanics of Poehler and Fey’s double act are well-oiled to the point where they could rival Crosby and Hope in their heyday. From Weekend Update and the Sarah Palin vs. Hillary Clinton sketches on Saturday Night Live (SNL) to Baby Mama and their stints hosting the Golden Globes, the comediennes have repeatedly brought the funny. Sisters is directed by Pitch Perfect’s Jason Moore, from a screenplay by Paula Pell, whose credits include SNL, 30 Rock and Bridesmaids. The supporting cast consists mostly of actors who are SNL alums or are part of the wider circle of comedians Poehler and Fey know. A good portion of the jokes hit their target, but there’s the hard-to-shake sense that the film leans too heavily on Poehler and Fey’s pre-existing rapport, instead of actually generating funny scenarios for their characters to participate in.

            Sisters is an entry in the “I don’t want to grow up (I’m a Toys “R” Us kid)” comedy subgenre. There’s a reason characters who are unwilling to move on from their teen years are referred to as “man-children”, because that’s mostly the dudes’ domain. It does riff on the Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly two-hander Step-Brothers, without the over-the-top rivalry. There are multiple points in Sisterswhere it feels like the film is flailing about, yelling “hey, girls can do stupid stuff too!” The vulgarity and gleefully reckless behaviour plus the mix of sentimentality and sweetness come off as very sub-Bridesmaids. The climactic comedic set piece is unexpectedly ambitious and there’s a gag involving a ballerina music box that will make audiences cringe, chuckle and clench, but there are significant portions of the film during which it’s spinning its wheels.

            If asked to categorise the two per an old buddy movie archetype, most audiences would pick Fey as the strait-laced one and Poehler as the party animal. Sisters flips the script and Fey gets multiple opportunities to make a scene and blurt out strings of cuss words. Poehler’s Maura does exhibit the “chipper to an annoying extent” trait she’s brought to her roles in Parks and Recreation and Inside Out. Barinholtz’s character is sweet, funny, capable and is very much a “dream guy” archetype but points for not casting an Abercrombie model in the part. Wiest and Brolin are also entertaining as the Ellis sisters’ parents, in part because they’re not necessarily actors one would expect to show up in an over-the-top comedy.

The partygoers are all one-dimensional, playing it up for laughs. Greta Lee shows up as nail salon technician Hae-Won, a character who’s supposed to deconstruct racist Korean stereotypes but ends up reinforcing them, depending on how sensitive one is to the issue. The character’s broken English further makes things uncomfortable and clumsy. Similarly, a group of lesbian women who show up to the party are portrayed as stereotypically masculine, dressed in denim and plaid and wielding power tools. It’s a disappointing lack of sophistication, especially since writer Pell is an openly gay woman herself. John Cena has wisely capitalised on his status as an internet meme and is proving that he has a knack for comedy, perhaps not unlike Mark Wahlberg and Channing Tatum.


The chemistry that Poehler and Fey share is the foundation on which the movie is built; it’s a shame the rest of the construction materials aren’t quite up to snuff. It certainly could have been tighter, sharper and more focused, but it is ultimately difficult not to be swayed by Poehler and Fey’s performances even if they aren’t working with the best material.

Summary: It’s far from the best use of Poehler and Fey’s talents and it tends to go for the obvious, easy jokes, but Sisters narrowly passes muster thanks to the duo’s irresistible chemistry.

RATING: 3out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong