By John H. Foote
When Warner Brothers announced Clint Eastwood’s new film The Mule was getting a year-end release, obviously, the
Two years later the two filmmakers were nominated against one another again, though this time Scorsese prevailed, finally. Among
Having amassed an extraordinary career, as an actor, director, producer and movie star, sixty-three years in the business. No one in the sixties or seventies would have predicted he would go onto to become one of the greatest American film directors. But he did, building a career directing one for them, and a passion project for him. Twice he won Oscars and DGA Awards for Best Director, twice more he was nominated for Best Director, along with two nominations for Best Actor and five times his film was nominated for Best Picture, most recently, American Sniper (2014). His western Unforgiven (1992) is arguably the greatest American western, standing alongside The Searchers (1956) for that coveted number one spot.
So when Warner’s has the confidence of an awards season release, I think most of us expected an Oscar crashing film that might… just might, get Eastwood that long overdue Oscar for Best Actor. As good as The Mule is, and it is very good, don’t expect much Oscar attention, if any. For the first time in his career, eighty-eight-year-old Eastwood looks frail, moves slower and cannot hide the ravages of old age. That powerful build he held so long is gone, and again for the first time onscreen Eastwood looks like a battered, very old man pushing ninety.
Seeing him on screen here was akin to seeing a cancer-ridden John Wayne amble out at the Oscars in 1979 just a few months before he died. In 2011, I shook Eastwood’s hand, meeting him at TIFF after the book I wrote about his films was released. He looked like he had stepped out of Mount Rushmore, tall, rugged, bright-eyed, easy going. Yes, his appearance in The Mule shocked me. But all of his gifts as an
As Earl, Eastwood is a world-weary old buy who has the sixties family in every way, earning their dislike, mistrust and in some cases, wrath. Now having lost everything, he takes a job driving to El Paso, acting bright-eyed drug mule for sixty-three very rich, equally dangerous cartel. All he has to do is
The law closes in on Earl, a hotshot new DEA officer portrayed by Bradley Cooper, taking a particular interest. But the head of the cartel, portrayed with confident menace by Andy Garcia, likes Earl too, but does he like him enough to protect him or is it easier to make the old fellow disappear?
There are many questions asked and answered about family, about the obligation to those you love, about failing them and the profound burden one feels. Earl knows he destroyed his marriage and wants very much to make amends. He realizes there is no chance Mary will ever give him another chance to fail her, but maybe he can show he can be relied upon. You can see the desperation in Earl at wanting to do something good before he dies, realizing his new found money provides that chance. But will Mary and Iris let him close enough to help them, before the cops nail him, or the cartels bury him in the desert.
Eastwood is again, as always terrific as the cranky, old Earl but he is far more agreeable and less hateful than his Walt Kowalski in Gran Torino (2008). In a year filled with outstanding male performances, Eastwood too offers one, but not good enough to be among the best five. Vintage Clint.
I have always adored the work of two time Academy Award winner Dianne Weist who has given remarkable performances in Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) and her extraordinary turn in Bullets Over Broadway (1994) among the finest performances in screen history. Her Mary is worn down by the disappointments from Earl, but cannot delude herself that she still feels something for him. Weist, as always is brilliant but really does not have a great deal to do. Now a film focusing on just she and Earl? Wow, that might be brilliant.
Bradley Cooper is terrific, the man can do no wrong, and Alison Eastwood is fine, but nothing more as Iris.
Even nearly ninety, Eastwood knows the story revolves around his character. And though slower, weaker, and frailer than ever, he does not let us down.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.