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Film / The Mule

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"For what it's worth, I'm sorry for everything..."

The Mule is a 2018 American crime film produced and directed by Clint Eastwood, who also plays the lead role, with a script by by Nick Schenk. It is Eastwood's first acting role since 2012's Trouble with the Curve and his first starring role in a film he directed himself since 2008's Gran Torino.

It is based on the true story of Leo Sharp (renamed Earl Stone here, played by Eastwood), an elderly war veteran (of World War II in real life, of Korea in the film) who became a drug courier for the Sinaloa Cartel.

The cast also includes Bradley Cooper, Dianne Wiest, Michael Peña, Laurence Fishburne, Taissa Farmiga, Ignacio Serricchio, Alison Eastwood and Andy García.

The film was released on December 14, 2018. The trailer can be watched here.

The Mule provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Name Change: The name of the Real Life mule was Leo Sharp, he is renamed Earl Stone in the film.
  • Bad Guy Bar: A bar in Chicago is popular with the members of the cartel. The DEA agents keep it under surveillance and even compare it with the Mos Eisley Cantina.
  • Based on a True Story: It is based on the later life of elderly veteran Leo Sharp, when he became a drug ferryman.
  • Beneath Suspicion: Earl's main advantage as a mule - who would suspect a doddering, frail old man of being a drug runner?
  • Benevolent Boss: Of all the cartel members who interact with Earl, Laton is the most tolerant of his idiosyncrasies, gives him leeway to do things his way and celebrates his success by inviting him to a party at his estate and treating him to hookers young enough to be his granddaughters. Unfortunately for him, his own enforcers see that benevolency as a weakness and ultimately kill him in a paranoid attempt to keep things running, despite there being no real problems with their operation.
  • Better Living Through Evil: Earl starts off days away from becoming completely destitute, but a couple of runs as a drug mule allow him to reverse the foreclosure of his house, donate to a local club he frequents, and even spend a little on extravagant jewelry.
  • Breather Episode: After a string of stressful deliveries, Laton invites Earl to his mansion for a big pool party.
  • The Cartel: The non-fictional Sinaloa drug cartel.
  • Cassandra Truth: Earl tells Mary the truth, that he made his money by running drugs and has a load of cocaine in his pickup right now. She laughs, thinking it's a joke.
  • The Charmer: Earl is incredibly good at getting people to trust and like him. Over the course of the movie, we see that other than his family, every single person he interacts with from cartel foot soldiers to fellow horticulturalists ends up wrapped around his little finger.
  • Clint Squint: Earl (aptly) squints when he is threatened into being more respectful of schedules by the new boss of the cartel.
  • Conspicuous Consumption:
    • The rifle that Laton uses for trapshooting is gold-plated, as are the guns his bodyguards use around the estate.
    • Earl himself trades in his decades old pickup truck for a brand new one which draws attention wherever he goes. He also starts wearing a chunky solid gold bracelet.
  • Daddy Didn't Show:
    • The film opens with Earl attending a convention instead of his own daughter's wedding, leading to a twelve-year estrangement between them.
    • Late in the film, Earl earns Genny's ire when he is reluctant to visit his dying ex-wife, unable to explain that he's currently running 300 kilos of cocaine for people who would not appreciate him taking a detour. It's ultimately subverted when he decides to put his family before his money.
  • Dirty Coward: Laton is usurped when his underlings shoot him while his back is turned.
  • Dirty Old Man: Earl enjoys a lot of attention from much younger women. That might go a ways to explaining the failed marriage.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Mild example, more due to Earl's age than anything else. His driving is a little too erratic for the cartel members who follow him in his runs. Averted the rest of the time otherwise.
  • Entertainingly Wrong: The new head of the cartel is convinced that Earl's unscheduled stops and deviations from the route are endangering the operation. In reality it is the Chicago end of the operation that is thoroughly compromised by the DEA and Earl's deviations from the tight schedule are the only thing keeping him from getting caught.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: The two cartel thugs assigned to punish Earl for abandoning his last job. When they learn he only did it to be with his dying wife, even they feel bad about what they have to do... but their boss doesn't feel the same way.
  • Face Death with Dignity: When the cartel thugs are about to kill Earl for abandoning his coke run, he acknowledges that he was warned of the consequences and tells them that he holds no ill will for them doing what they have to.
  • Fanservice Extra: All of those beautiful women gathered at the mansion, especially in the pool party scene.
  • Good Old Ways: Earl is not a fan of modern technology and routinely mocks the younger generation for being overly reliant on it. While he does learn to text as part of his job as a drug mule, he never sheds his disdain for the Internet.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Julio starts out as a gruff, uncompromising handler willing to pull a gun on Earl, but eventually warms up to him and likes him enough to worry over his safety when the cartel changes management.
  • Hero Antagonist: Bates and Trevino are the leaders of the investigation into the cartel Earl is working for, and are never portrayed as anything less than upstanding individuals.
  • Hollywood Density: Earl is stated to transport hundreds of kilos of cocaine in each trip, but you wouldn't know it from the size and number of the bags that are put on his truck, or the ease with which they are handlednote .
  • Honor Before Reason:
    • On the biggest delivery of his "career," Earl chooses to interrupt his route — knowing the consequence is death — to be at a dying Mary's bedside and funeral.
    • Earl pleads guilty to all charges at his trial to own up to his actions and maintain the respect of his family, even when he could have easily claimed that he was threatened and manipulated.
  • Idiot Ball:
    • Midway through the film, a tense Julio affirms that the DEA knows that their courier is driving a black pickup truck and local police are pulling over drivers with cars matching that description. Neither him, nor Earl, nor anybody involved in the cartel do anything about it, and Earl continues driving the same truck until he's finally apprehended.
    • The DEA knows that the nickname of the cartel's top mule is Tata, but none of them thinks of picking up a dictionary or looking it up on the Internet to check what it means. If they had, they'd known that the word is a Mexican slang for "granddaddy".
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Earl, an elderly Korean War veteran, befriends several cartel members who appear to be in their 30s at most.
  • In the Back: How Laton is killed.
  • Justified Criminal: Stone delves into the drug trade out of socio-economic reasons after, in his own words, "failing" his family.
  • Logical Weakness: Inverted. Earl is an elderly, frail war veteran with completely estranged family. So all the standard intimidation tactics of the cartel just don't work on him, as nobody will miss him, guns don't scare him and he's not afraid to die due to his advanced age.
  • Male Gaze: There are numerous shots of bikini-clad young women grinding on Earl and Ladon in his mansion and throwing themselves at the old men.
  • The Mole: Bates and Trevino strongarm a cartel member named Luis into acting as a DEA snitch by threatening to put him away for life.
  • My Greatest Failure: Stone considers himself as "a damn failure in [his] own home", "a terrible father" and "a terrible husband".
  • Never Trust a Trailer: Promotions made it look like he was a sweet but ignorant old man duped or coerced into working as a mule for the cartel. In reality, he was completely aware of what he was doing and indulged in his newfound wealth and lifestyle.
  • Nice Girl: Ginny is sweet and friendly, and the only one left in the family who hasn't given up on Earl.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Earl gets out of danger more than once by playing up his act of being a doddering old man that other people want to politely flee from as soon as possible.
  • Odd Friendship: Earl is an elderly Korean War veteran and a bit of a technophobe, yet he somehow ends up friends with some of the cartel members who give him his cargo.
  • Oh, Crap!: The cartel doesn't tell Earl what he is transporting. When curiosity finally gets to him on his third run, he opens their bag mid-way through his trip and finds out it's large quantities of cocaine, prompting a "Holy shit!". Immediately after he is questioned by a police officer. Despite the close call, he continues doing runs because of how lucrative they are.
  • Offscreen Karma: None of the cartel members are ever shown being arrested, but it's safe to assume that, with Luis the informant providing extensive details about the operation and Earl's arrest exposing their network, their days are numbered.
  • One Last Job: Averted. Earl is ready to call it quits after the first job, but quickly changes his tune when he realizes how far his money can go.
  • Out with a Bang: Earl jokes that he will need to call his cardiologist as he's about to have a threesome. He comes out of it just fine.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: Well, "hero" is overselling things a bit, but our sympathetic protagonist is a rather old man who doesn't understand that "Negro" and "beaner" are no longer acceptable terms, even if he uses them without the slightest bit of prejudice in mind against those he calls like that.
  • Prison Rape: Bates and Trevino get Luis's cooperation by threatening him, saying he'll end up as someone's "girlfriend" in prison.
  • "Ray of Hope" Ending: Earl gets brutally beaten for abandoning a job to be with his dying ex-wife; then the DEA agents catch him and he pleads guilty, going off to prison for possibly the rest of his life just as he was mending his relationship with his family. Agent Bates doesn't seem happy with his big bust, either. The good news is that his family is still standing by him, the cartel will probably unravel in the future due to his arrest, and that in prison, Earl is able to carry on as he always has planting flowers.
  • Real Men Wear Pink: Earl is an avid horticulturalist who loves showing off his prize flowers. Also, he is a Korean War vet who refuses to let cartel thugs intimidate him. And he is played by Clint Eastwood.
  • Refuge in Audacity: At one point Earl opens a trunk of his car, loaded with few hundred pounds of coke, to pick up cans of carmelised corn and bribe with it a racist deputy, who started to pester Earl's Mexican handlers. Since he plays up his "doddering elder" act in the process, the cop quickly leaves the scene.
  • Rhetorical Question Blunder: When Earl arrives at Laton's mansion, he is deeply impressed and jokingly asks who Laton killed for it. 
    Laton: Many, many people.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: The policeman who harasses Julio and his henchman after Earl treats them to a pulled pork sandwich. The two are highly dangerous members of the cartel, but the deputy had no way of knowing that and got in their faces out of pure racism.
  • Right Under Their Noses:
    • Who would suspect an affable old man to be a drug ferryman for a Mexican cartel?
    • Earl decides to have coffee and a chat with Colin Bates, the DEA agent who leads the operation to catch the mule.
  • Sarcastic Confession: Earl’s dying ex-wife asks him how he managed to make so much money. At first, he jokes that he’s a gigolo, and then a bounty hunter, then that he’s a drug mule for a cartel and he has many kilos of cocaine in the back of his truck right now. She think she that these are just jokes that he is making to cover up on where he really got it, and stops asking him.
  • Shout-Out: A bar in Chicago is popular with the members of the cartel. The DEA agents compare it with the Mos Eisley Cantina.
  • Silver Fox: Earl is an elderly man, yet he has no trouble catching tail and gets into two threesomes over the course of the film (although it's more likely that the girls are paid by Laton for this).
  • Suspicious Spending: Mostly averted, but the operator of the VFW Hall notices Earl’s fancy new truck and quickly figures he can pay for the repairs.
  • They Have the Scent!: The cop Earl meets on the road during his third run has a dog that starts barking, and Earl puts a cream on the animal's nose so it won't smell the drug in his car's trunk.
  • This Is Unforgivable!: Earl's daughter is livid when he no-shows her wedding, and goes out of her way to avoid interacting with him for twelve years; they only reconcile after Mary's death.
  • A Threesome Is Hot: Earl engages in two separate threesomes over the course of the film.
  • Time Skip: The movie opens up in 2005 with Earl's business in top shape and continuing to neglect his family. Then it skips ahead 12 years and his business is bankrupted and Earl has hit rock bottom.
  • Too Clever by Half: The new cartel boss decides to make everything run according to his strict orders, with zero room for deviations or randomness. Even without Luis being a snitch for DEA, it would be a matter of time when each of the mules gets picked due to repeating the exact same routes each and every time in the exact same manner and timing. And in case of Earl, his unpredictability was what kept the whole operation running in the first place.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: In the beginning of the film, Earl Stone is self-centered and he neglects his family (he even does not attend his daughter's wedding). In the end, he has changed his ways: he even risks his life to visit his dying ex-wife. Her ex-wife and daughter forgive him for his past jerkassery.
  • Truth in Television: In the film, Earl's attorney argues that he was a frail, kindhearted elderly man taken advantage of by hardened criminals, but Earl pleads guilty to own up to his actions. The real-life courier plead exactly that during his own trial.
  • Tyrant Takes the Helm: Midway through the film, Laton is murdered and usurped by an ambitious underling. His men make it clear in no uncertain terms that Earl will face severe punishment if he keeps deviating from their schedule.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Invoked at the end by Earl's attorney, who attempts to paint Earl as a sweet, naive old man who was taken advantage of by ruthless cartel enforcers. Earl is having none of it, however. He was this until he opened the bag and saw what was inside, and he just kept going for more afterwards.
  • Useless Without Cellphones: Earl comes across an African American family who is unable to replace their flat tire because the dad in the family cannot look up how to do it with the low reception in the area. Earl also makes a few comments on the newer generation’s over-dependence on their phones.
  • You Are a Credit to Your Race: While on one of the drug runs Earl stops to help an African American family on the side of the road. While doing so he comments with some pride at "helping some Negroes." The family are caught by surprise and correct him, but recognize he didn't mean any harm over it.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Despite being a fairly prominent character, Julio just disappears after warning Earl to respect the cartel's new management.
  • Workaholic: Earl Stone neglected his family because he had a passion for his job as horticulturist.