Wednesday, April 17, 2019

‘Blu-ray or Bust’ - THE MULE

‘Blu-ray or Bust’

I grew up with Clint Eastwood. Not, like, he was my pal or anything—I’m not that old, despite what my thirteen faithful readers may think.

But watching any of his films now is almost a transcendent experience for me. I grew up watching FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, WHERE EAGLES DARE, and my all-time favorite of his, THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY (and not just because I identified with all three, thank you very much). Mr. Eastwood was The Man With No Name, he was a troubled hero, and he was a stalwart soldier. His characters were imperfect, yet glorious in their victories over the bad guys.

And then he got old. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still glorious when he needs to be. Yet as of late, it has been of a much more subtle variety. While he had some films in his history that didn’t seem to follow the majority of his film path, the vast history of his portrayals seemed to go something like this: cowboys, cops, old men. Yes, I understand that he isn’t as young as he once was, and the selection of characters available to him has dwindled dramatically.

I watch him now, and wish he could still ride a horse or shoot bad guys, but I understand that that isn’t necessarily what Hollywood needs at the moment. So, meet Earl Stone. Earl is an abrasive old man (much like his character in GRAN TORINO) that grows award-winning flowers, a far cry from anything you’d call action. He’s sweet on the ladies and tough on the competition, and he puts family absolutely last in his list of priorities. Through a turn of events which barely explains his motivation, Earl winds up being a mule for a drug cartel. All he does is drive drugs to a hotel, and soon his money problems are a thing of the past. And that past starts to catch up with him in the form of that misbegotten family he shunned for much of his life.

One thing we never get with this film is a moral dilemma; Earl seems to know what he is signing up for, yet doesn’t even stop to consider the ramifications until a dead body is staring him in the face. Mr. Eastwood’s performance is fine; he makes Earl someone we care about even though we probably shouldn’t, but Nick Schnek’s script doesn’t do the character’s motivations any favors. Yes, most of these films about someone swept up in the drug trade all work on the basic premise of money problems motivating the protagonist. But there is always that moral issue, and Earl has his much too late for it to be effective enough.

Bradley Cooper and Michael Pena play DEA agents trying to bust up the cartel’s drug trade in Chicago, and both have a chemistry which belies their new partnership. Their roles are richly written, and it nearly makes Mr. Cooper the Clint Eastwood of this film, albeit the version that could still chase down the bad guys.

There are only two special features included with this release: a ten-minute making-of doc and a Toby Keith music video. And while the doc does give some insight into what it took to film Earl on all of those drug runs (and they use a whole lot of that footage—seriously, they could have shortened the film by ten minutes if it wasn’t doubling as a travelogue for the Midwest), there isn’t nearly enough here to make it stand apart from others.

I sincerely hope that this production does not mark his last performance in front of or behind the camera. Mr. Eastwood is still a masterful storyteller, and he still puts on a helluva performance. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to see him on a horse again. Surely there’s a script out there about an abrasive old cowboy…

Film Grade: B
Special Features: D
Blu-ray Necessary: Recommended

- T.S. Kummelman

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