Year Released: 2018
Directed by; Clint Eastwood
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Dianne West, Bradley Cooper
(R, 116 min.)
Genre: Drama, Mystery and Suspense
“The unexamined life is not worth living.” –Socrates
Oh, no! It seems film icon Clint Eastwood has gone over to the dark side, playing a very likeable octogenarian drug courier.
Has my screen favorite succumbed to the “Defining Deviancy Down” syndrome that Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan warned us about decades ago? This question bothered Different Drummer so much that it took several weeks to talk myself into actually paying good money to watch The Mule.
You might be relieved to find out my answer. Rather than glorifying cartels or excusing someone making the easy money they provide, Eastwood’s film is really a sort of morality play. But you have to sit through to the end to find that out.
And like most of his classic characters, from his spaghetti Western days as the cigar chomping Man with No name to Dirty Harry, Clint Eastwood doesn’t sugar coat anything. His 80-something Earl in The Mule is only likeable in the flawed curmudgeon mold we have learned to love in Million Dollar Baby and Gran Torino. Except those old coots weren’t transporting millions of dollars of drugs around, spreading the poison from state and state while singing along with old tunes on the radio or stopping for “the best pulled pork sandwich” in the world. And Walter Kowalski (Gran Torino) actually faced off against the thugs instead of becoming so friendly with some that they refer to him as “Tata,” or grandfather, as they do in The Mule.
Well, what characterizes so much of Eastwood’s recent work is what French novelist Émile Zola saw as his role as well – the novelist (or in Eastwood’s case, the film director) as a detached observer of life.
Thus Eastwood’s penchant for so many films dealing, as The Mule does, with real people. Some have been undisputed heroes like airline Captain, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and his miraculous 2009 Hudson River Landing. Or 2014’s less uniformly celebrated American Sniper. And then there was the 2006 retelling of the Battle of Iwo Jima from the Japanese perspective, a tale told from the inside out.
So probably Eastwood heard of this real life elderly drug transporter featured in the New York Times article, “The Sinaloa Cartel’s 90-Year-Old Drug Mule” and wondered what made him tick.
Some may dispute Eastwood’s range as an actor. And yes, there is a little bit of the Man with No Name or the throaty whisper of Dirty Harry in all his roles. But I will go out on a limb here and say that Eastwood’s acting in this most recent film is his best ever. As for those of us not that far behind him age wise, that alone is reassuring. Maybe Robert Browning’s “Grow old with me! The best is yet to be,” is not just a quote to brighten up retirement parties.
Eastwood’s Earl lets us see the emotions that wash over his face in spite of his macho exterior. Fear is quickly cloaked, anger not so much, but the pain seeps out in spite of himself, especially when he faces up to his failures as a husband, father, and grandfather.
By contrast, the opening sequence shows Earl in his cups, so to speak, the toast of the town, or at least his small corner of it, as the champion day lily grower and dapper charmer at their convention. Dressed in a summer suit and straw hat, with a cane that is more for show than anything else, he clearly enjoys the adulation. But when he covers everyone’s bar bill and the waiter asks if he wants to pay for the drinks of a wedding party also there, Earl hesitates for just a moment before saying, “Sure.” That momentary pause is very subtle, but it is the clue to a transgression that haunts Earl for the next 12 years.
Kudos for the rest of the cast, who imbue their roles with the across the board excellence Eastwood usually gets from his fellow actors. Andy Garcia is glorious as the sanguine Mexican cartel boss. Dianne West as the long suffering ex wife is pitch perfect, as are Taissa Farmiga as his tentatively supportive granddaughter, and Alison Eastwood as his estranged daughter. Laurence Fishburne, of course, is both unused and wonderful in his small part as a Drug Enforcement Agency officer, while Bradley Cooper, Eastwood’s American Sniper, and his DEA partner, Michael Pena, are fine in relatively undemanding parts. But this is Eastwood’s film, and it is he who carries it off.
With corporate Hollywood retooling every old film, comic book, or reinvented super hero ad nauseam, venture to the theaters to see someone not afraid to take some risks. How ironic that it is an 88 year old who wears every wrinkle with pride!
Part of what either endears us to Earl or makes his drug courier activity even more despicable is how he takes time along the way to enjoy himself, even making his cartel minders join him in indulging in “the best pulled pork in the world.” Eating outdoors a local dive, the two brown-skinned dudes are not too happy to gather stares from the local all-white crowd who look on them like exotic birds that have wandered off their migratory course.
I have chosen a relatively easy recipe for you to use making this great dish. It has a prep time of only 15 minutes, although the slow cooking takes a little over 9 hours.
Take Earl’s recommendation for this delicious concoction, but ignore any advice he may render on how to make some “easy money. Real quick and just for one time…”
Super-Easy Pulled Pork Sandwich Recipe
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons paprika
1 1/2 tablespoons garlic powder (such as McCormick(R) California Style)
1 1/2 tablespoons ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup Dijon mustard (such as Hellmann's(R))
8 pounds pork shoulder roast (butt roast), rind removed
1/2 cup barbeque sauce, or to taste
18 large hamburger buns, split
Preheat oven to 250 degrees F (120 degrees C).
Mix brown sugar, paprika, garlic powder, black pepper, and salt in a bowl. Spread mustard over pork roast and sprinkle with brown sugar mixture, using the entire amount. Line a shallow baking dish with aluminum foil. Place a rack in the prepared baking dish and arrange pork roast on rack.
Bake in the preheated oven until very tender, 9 to 11 hours. Let pork cool, then shred into bite-size pieces. Stir barbeque sauce into pork to moisten; serve with hamburger buns.