The Mule (2018 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Clint Eastwood|
|Screenplay by||Nick Schenk|
|Based on||"The Sinaloa Cartel's 90-Year-Old Drug Mule"|
by Sam Dolnick
|Music by||Arturo Sandoval|
|Edited by||Joel Cox|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|Box office||$94.9 million|
The Mule is a 2018 American crime 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 Cartel's 90-Year-Old Drug Mule" by Sam Dolnick, which recounts the true story of Leo Sharp, a World War II veteran in his 80s who became a drug courier for the Sinaloa Cartel.
Along with Eastwood, the film stars Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Peña, Dianne Wiest, and Andy García. It is Eastwood's first acting project since 2012's Trouble with the Curve, and his first starring role in a film directed by him since 2008's Gran Torino. Filming began in June 2018, taking place in Atlanta and Augusta, Georgia.
The Mule was released in the United States on December 14, 2018, by Warner Bros. Pictures. It has grossed over $94 million and received mixed reviews from critics, who called it "poignant and charming" and praised Eastwood's performance, but also noted the lack of true dramatic heft.
Earl Stone is a 90-year-old horticulturist and Korean War veteran who is facing financial ruin and is estranged from his family. Desperate for money, he 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 paid equally large amounts of cash. With the money he obtains from drug-running, he pays for renovations of the local VFW Post and his granddaughter's wedding and education. He becomes friendly with the cartel members, who call him Tata ("grandfather").
Meanwhile, a Drug Enforcement Administration task force is narrowing in on the cartel's deliveries to Chicago. Tensions within the cartel erupt when a power-hungry lieutenant assassinates the boss, and subsequently demands Earl be kept under tighter control. In the middle of a large cocaine shipment, Earl learns his ex-wife is gravely ill. He postpones the drug delivery to make peace with his ex-wife before her death, which provokes the cartel's ire. He resumes the delivery as the DEA and the cartel close in on him.
- Clint Eastwood as Earl Stone, a drug mule (based on Leo Sharp)
- Bradley Cooper as Colin Bates, a DEA Agent (based on Jeff Moore)
- Laurence Fishburne as a DEA Special Agent in Charge
- Michael Peña as Trevino, a DEA agent and Bates’ partner
- Dianne Wiest as Mary, Earl's ex-wife
- Andy García as Laton, a Cartel boss
- Alison Eastwood as Iris, Earl's estranged daughter
- Taissa Farmiga as Ginny, Earl's granddaughter
- Ignacio Serricchio as Julio, a cartel handler
- Loren Dean as DEA Agent Brown
- Victor Rasuk as Rico
- Manny Montana as Axl
- Clifton Collins Jr. as Gustavo
- Noel Gugliemi as Bald Rob
- Robert LaSardo as Emilio
- Eugene Cordero as Luis Rocha
DEA Special Agent Jeff Moore, who arrested 87-year-old Leo Sharp in 2011, was interviewed by The New York Times regarding the investigation into Sharp, the world's oldest and most prolific drug mule. The rights to the subsequent article "The Sinaloa Cartel's 90-Year-Old Drug Mule," written by Sam Dolnick, were sold to Imperative Entertainment in 2014.
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, for Warner Bros. Pictures 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.
In January 2018, Eastwood was set to play the role of Earl Stone, based on Leo Sharp, a 90 year-old 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 film's cast to play Earl Stone's ex-wife and Bates' fellow DEA agent, respectively. More cast were also confirmed, including Laurence Fishburne as a DEA special agent in charge, Alison Eastwood as Stone's daughter, Taissa Farmiga as Stone's granddaughter, and Ignacio Serricchio as Stone's 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.
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 Eastwood's 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.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 66% based on 101 reviews, with an average rating of 6/10. The website's 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 33 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.
David Ehrlich of IndieWire gave the film a "B+" and called it Eastwood's best in over 25 years, writing that "this soulful and deeply satisfying film — a fitting swansong, if ever there was one — makes a compelling argument that change is always possible, and that the path we're on is never as narrow as the highway makes it look." In a middling review, Peter Debruge of Variety wrote, "It's a great true story, colorfully told by Sam Dolnick in The New York Times and somewhat watered down for the screen by Nick Schenk, the still-green screenwriter who got incredibly lucky when Eastwood agreed to direct and star in his early spec, Gran Torino. And there's obviously no one better to embody someone like Leo Sharp — the real-life criminal whose name has been changed to Earl Stone for the movie — than Eastwood, who can play stubborn, battle-scarred, casually racist characters in his sleep."
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