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There is a very easy test that moviegoers can use to tell if the audience like the movie playing: observing how many times people check their phone. The occasional quick checking of notifications or looking at the time means the audience is enjoying the film, but when you start seeing Facebook and Instagram feeds, you know things are not going that well; while The Mule was playing, Facebook news feeds got more views than the actual film.
The Mule follows 90-year-old veteran Earl Stone (Clint Eastwood), who is broke, homeless, and shunned by the family he abandoned. Without many choices, Stone stumbles into working with the Mexican cartel, delivering large amounts of drugs to different drop off points. Stone and the cartel face trouble when eager DEA agent Colin Bates (Bradley Cooper) is assigned the case. Matters get even worse when Stone’s family goes through rough times, so he now has to decide between trying to repair the damage he caused his loved ones and remaining dedicated to the cartel while trying to avoid going to prison.
Seems suspenseful? Well, it certainly is not.
The film runs way too long and everything happens at a slow-motion pace. The result is too slow of a feature that had audiences wanting to press an invisible fast forward button. The film did not have any twists or turns that would intrigue viewers, but instead almost wholly relied on the talent and charisma of its main star.
Another issue with the film’s plot was that it presented so many thoughts, but left them all unfinished; Stone’s relationship with his family and why he was not around, the dynamic between Stone and Agent Bates, the power struggle happening in the cartel, and many more. All these aspects were only superficially addressed, and the film would have been much richer, and much more entertaining, if it had shed the spotlight on one or two of these as main themes in the movie.
The same goes for the film’s characters, as most of them are also very underdeveloped; Earl Stone, as an example, is shown as a subtle bigot and a dead-beat husband and father, but why is he this way? What happened to him? What other major aspects exist in his personality? All these questions are left unexplored and unanswered.
As for the acting, Clint Eastwood is undoubtedly a talented and charismatic actor, but his acting talents could not save the film. Bradley Cooper’s performance was flat and monotonous, which was perhaps due to the small size of his role as well as the film’s setup for his character.
There are only two reasons you would knowingly decide to watch The Mule; either you are a crazy Clint Eastwood fan, or you have a gun to your head.