ⓘ The Mule (2018 film)
The Mule is a 2018 American crime drama film produced and directed by Clint Eastwood, who also plays the lead role. The screenplay, by Nick Schenk, is based on The New York Times article "The Sinaloa Cartels 90-Year-Old Drug Mule" by Sam Dolnick, which recounts the story of Leo Sharp, a World War II veteran who became a drug courier for the Sinaloa Cartel in his 80s.
Along with Eastwood, the film stars Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Peña, Dianne Wiest, and Andy Garcia. It is Eastwoods first acting project since 2012s Trouble with the Curve, and his first starring role in a film directed by him since 2008s Gran Torino. Filming began in June 2018, taking place in Atlanta and Augusta, Georgia, with other film locations in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
The Mule was released in the United States on December 14, 2018, by Warner Bros. It has grossed over $174 million. The film was praised for its emotional depth, with critics calling it "poignant and charming" while also praising Eastwoods performance, but was criticized for its lack of dramatic heft.
Earl Stone, in his 80s, is an award-winning horticulturist and Korean War veteran in Peoria, Illinois. He is facing financial ruin and is estranged from his ex-wife Mary and daughter Iris for always putting work before family. He is still on friendly terms with his granddaughter Ginny and attends her wedding rehearsal. Desperate for money, he takes up an offer from the friend of one of Ginnys bridesmaids and becomes a "mule" transporting cocaine through Illinois for a Mexican drug cartel. Facing little suspicion due to his age, race, spotless criminal history, and strict adherence to driving laws, Earl is soon trusted with huge amounts of drugs and is paid large amounts of cash. With the money he buys a new truck, settles his financial problems, and pays for renovations of the local VFW Post, as well as his granddaughters wedding and education. He becomes friendly with the cartel members, who call him "Tata grandfather.
Meanwhile, with details from an informant, a Drug Enforcement Administration DEA task force is narrowing in on the cartels deliveries to Chicago. Tensions within the cartel erupt when Gustavo, a power-hungry cartel lieutenant, assassinates cartel boss Laton, and subsequently demands Earl be kept under tighter control.
In the middle of a $12 million cocaine shipment, Earl learns that Mary is gravely ill. After Ginny talks some sense into him, he postpones the drug delivery to make peace with Mary and stays by her side until she dies peacefully days later. After attending the funeral and finally reconciling with his family, Earl resumes the delivery as both the DEA and the cartel close in on him.
The cartels enforcers catch him and, upon discovering he was away to attend his wifes death and funeral which they respect, call the cartel leader to request leniency. The cartel underboss allows him to continue, with the caveat that if anything goes wrong it will be on the enforcers heads. Earl continues towards the drop point, but the DEA agents finally catch up to him and arrest him. In court, disregarding his age as an excuse and guilt-ridden over his crimes and for failing his family, Earl pleads guilty to all charges and is sent to federal prison with his family showing him their support. In prison, he returns to horticulture.
- Ignacio Serricchio as Julio, Earls cartel handler
- Michael Peña as Trevino, Bates’ partner
- Andy Garcia as Laton, a Cartel boss
- Kinsley Isla Dillon as young Ginny
- Laurence Fishburne as Warren Lewis, Bates’ supervisor
- Bradley Cooper as Colin Bates, a DEA agent based on Jeff Moore
- Taissa Farmiga as Ginny, Earls granddaughter
- Dianne Wiest as Mary Stone, Earls estranged ex-wife
- Clint Eastwood as Earl Stone, a drug mule based on Leo Sharp
- Richard Herd as Tim Kennedy
- Alison Eastwood as Iris, Earls estranged daughter
- Noel G. as Bald Rob
- Victor Rasuk as Rico, an attendee at Ginnys bridal party who offers Earl his first job
- Daniel Moncada as Eduardo, a high-ranking cartel member
- Eugene Cordero as Luis Rocha, DEA informant inside the cartel
- Clifton Collins Jr. as Gustavo, who takes over from Laton
- Lobo Sebastian as Bug, a cartel enforcer
- Robert LaSardo as Emilio, Earls first employer
- Manny Montana as Axl
3.1. Production Development
During 2014, DEA Special Agent Jeff Moore, who arrested 87-year-old Leo Sharp in 2011, was interviewed by The New York Times regarding the investigation of Sharp, the worlds oldest and most prolific drug mule. The rights to the subsequent article, "The Sinaloa Cartels 90-Year-Old Drug Mule", written by Sam Dolnick, were sold to Imperative Entertainment later that year.
Imperative hired Ruben Fleischer to direct and produce the film. In February 2015, Nick Schenk was hired to adapt the article into a film screenplay.
In January 2018, it was revealed that the film would be titled The Mule and that Clint Eastwood would direct the film instead, as well as produce and star in it, for Warner Bros. Entertainment and Imperative. Producers include Eastwood for Malpaso Productions, along with Tim Moore, Kristina Rivera and Jessica Meier, and Dan Friedkin and Bradley Thomas for Imperative Entertainment. Fleischer executive produced.
3.2. Production Casting
In January 2018, Eastwood was set to play the role of Earl Stone, a Korean War veteran in his 80s, based on World War II veteran Leo Sharp, who is working as a drug courier for a Mexican cartel. In May 2018, Bradley Cooper joined the cast to play DEA agent Colin Bates, based on agent Jeff Moore, who is chasing Stone, and along with Cooper, Lobo Sebastian also joined the film. In June 2018, Dianne Wiest and Michael Peña joined the films cast to play Earl Stones ex-wife and Bates fellow DEA agent, respectively. More cast members were also confirmed, including Laurence Fishburne as a DEA special agent in charge, Alison Eastwood as Stones daughter, Taissa Farmiga as Stones granddaughter, and Ignacio Serricchio as Stones cartel handler. That same month, Loren Dean joined the cast of the film. In July 2018, Victor Rasuk was cast, and Manny Montana was also confirmed.
The film was released on December 14, 2018 in the United States and released on January 25, 2019 in the United Kingdom. It premiered on December 10, 2018 in Westwood, California.
The Mule was released on digital HD on March 19, 2019 and on 4K UHD Blu-ray, Blu-ray and DVD on April 2, 2019. It is already available for online streaming video and digital downloading through Apples iTunes Store and Vudu.
5.1. Reception Box office
The Mule grossed $103.8 million in the United States and Canada, and $69.8 million in other territories, for a total worldwide gross of $173.6 million, against a production budget of $50 million.
In the United States and Canada, The Mule was released alongside Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and Mortal Engines, and was projected to gross $15–18 million from 2.588 theaters in its opening weekend. It made $5.9 million on its first day and $17.5 million over the weekend, finishing second at the box office and marking the third-best opening of Eastwoods acting career, after Gran Torino and Space Cowboys. It made $9.5 million in its second weekend, finishing fifth, and then $4.9 million on Christmas Day.
5.2. Reception Critical response
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 70% based on 177 reviews, with an average rating of 6.2/10. The websites critical consensus reads, "A flawed yet enjoyable late-period Eastwood entry, The Mule stubbornly retains its footing despite a few missteps on its occasionally unpredictable path." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 58 out of 100, based on 37 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A−" on an A+ to F scale, while those at PostTrak gave it four out of five stars.
Peter Debruge of Variety wrote, "Its a great true story, colorfully told by Sam Dolnick in The New York Times ". David Ehrlich of IndieWire gave the film a "B+" and called it Eastwoods best in over 25 years, writing:
In 2019, The Mule was included in Richard Brodys list of the 27 best films of the decade.
6. In popular culture
In January 2019, John Mulaney and Pete Davidson appeared in the segment Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live to review The Mule. They joked about the absurdities of the plot, and the fact that it include multiple scenes of three-ways with Eastwood, a 90-year-old man, with two women in their 20s. The clip has received over 5 million views on YouTube.