3 Stars – Thought-provoking
The lack of a moral foundation is the fatal flaw of Earl Stone’s (Clint Eastwood) life. This is seen not only in his taking the risk of become a drug cartel’s mule, but also in his willingness to put his own ambitions above the love of his family and not even showing up at his daughter’s wedding. Directing and playing the title role of The Mule, Clint Eastwood recreates the familiar character we have already known in his films Unforgiven and Gran Torino.
Living a life in love with his flowers, Stone lives for the accolades of his fellow horticulturalist while at the same time abandoning his wife Mary (Dianne Wiest), daughter Iris (Alison Eastwood) and granddaughter Ginny (Taissa Farmiga). Although many people have a tendency to live a self-absorbed life, Stone has taken this temptation to a new level. With no influence in his life to live for others, he lives only for himself until at the age of 90 he is isolated and alone. It is then in his hour of abject need with his flower farm in foreclosure and his family rejecting him, Stone is offered the opportunity to make a great deal of money running drugs from Texas to his home in Chicago. He accepts with little to no thought of the lives these drugs are destroying.
The agent searching to end such drug trade is Colin Bates (Bradley Cooper), a successful federal DEA agent who is brought in for the task. Bates and his partner (Michael Peña) turn a highly placed cartel member to give them the vital information needed to bring down the cartel’s operation.
The cartel is under the insightful and devious control of Laton (Andy Garcia) who not only takes a special interest in his oldest mule but invites him to Mexico to meet and reward him. What happens there depicts another form of immorality as Stone is entertained by a sexual threesome, a practice he seems to have cultivated earlier in his life and exhibited during his drug runs.
The redeeming part of the film is what Stone does with the money. He not only buys his farm from disclosure and pays for the open bar of his granddaughter’s wedding, but also refurbishes his dilapidated VFW hall where he hangs out as a Korean War veteran. However, the true redemption comes when at great personal risk Stone spends time with his ex-wife in a moment of great need. This act begins a family reconciliation opportunity that could change his life.
As is true of many of Eastwood’s characters, the lack of a community of faith or a moral compass leaves him in a place of lonely despair. The inability to love deeply and faithfully, becoming a trustworthy person is clearly shown as Stone tries to find redemption. Often, as in The Mule, such redemption is incomplete and too late. That is a great warning for us all.
Eastwood’s portrayal of Stone is insightful. Based on the true story of Leo Sharp, the despair that would drive a war hero to such immoral gain is sad. Do you think you could ever come to such a place where you would do a similar immorality?
The trust of Stone’s daughter and granddaughter that he would be there for them was a devastating disappointment. Have you ever been similarly disappointed and how did you deal with it? Are you still estranged from the person who betrayed your trust?
The lack of a real life by those in the cartel is contrasted with the manner in which Stone lived his. But the party at Laton’s mansion was more an attempt at a life than a real life with true relationships and friends. This is expressed by Stone to his handler. Do you live a real life with true family and friends, and if not, why not?