The Mule (2018 film)

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The Mule
The mule poster.png
Theatrical release poster
Directed byClint Eastwood
Screenplay byNick Schenk
Based on"The Sinaloa Cartel's 90-Year-Old Drug Mule"
by Sam Dolnick
Produced by
  • Clint Eastwood
  • Tim Moore
  • Kristina Rivera
  • Jessica Meier
  • Dan Friedkin
  • Bradley Thomas
CinematographyYves Bélanger
Edited byJoel Cox
Music byArturo Sandoval
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release date
  • December 14, 2018 (2018-12-14) (United States)
Running time
116 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$50 million[1]
Box office$174.8 million[1]

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 2014 The New York Times article "The Sinaloa Cartel's 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 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, 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 received generally favorable reviews; critics called it "poignant and charming" while also praising Eastwood's performance, but the film was also criticized for its lack of dramatic heft.[2]


The film opens in 2005 in Peoria, Illinois with Earl, missing his daughter Iris' wedding in order to attend an Horticultural awards ceremony that results in his estrangement from Iris and his eventual divorce from his wife Mary.

12 years later, Earl's house is foreclosed on by the bank and the homeless 80 year old Earl visits his granddaughter Ginny in order to attend her wedding rehearsal. While there he is spotted by a member of a drug cartel who recognizes the use Earl would have for the cartel as a mule. Earl accepts the offer 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. Over time Earl gets more involved with the cartel and becomes one of their best mules. With the money he buys a new truck, saves his home from foreclosure and even pays for renovations of the local VFW Post (which had been damaged in a fire). Finally Earl pays for Ginny's wedding and college education.

Earl becomes known to the cartel members and is given the nickname "Tata" (grandfather).

Meanwhile, Agent Colin Bates moves to the Chicago DEA office and is assigned Agent Trevino as his partner. They are tasked with narrowing in on the cartel's deliveries to Chicago. Bates and Trevino find an informant from within the Cartel and start looking for TaTa.

The Cartel leader Laton is overjoyed with Earl's success and invites him to a party. Earl mistakenly believes the cartel to be friends. Later things take a turn for Earl when Laton is assassinated and replaced by Gustavo. Gustavo is more bloodthirsty and controlling than Laton and demands Earl be kept under tighter control.

While driving, Earl customarily listens to music on the radio. He is particularly attached to the song, [I love you] More Today Than Yesterday.

In the middle of a $12 million cocaine shipment, Earl winds up in a diner with agent Bates. Neither man recognizes the other, and the elderly Earl gives Bates advice to try and mend fences with his wife and not make the mistakes Earl has made. Earl then leaves to conclude the delivery of the shipment but en route to the final destination he gets a call from Ginny who informs him that Mary is gravely ill. Earl initially tells Ginny he cannot come to see Mary until she rebukes him for his perceived lack of care. Earl relents and disobeys Gustavo and proceeds to Mary. Whilst there he manages to make peace with Mary and stays by her side. In their last words together, Mary tells Earl "I love you more today than yesterday." To which he answers, "But not as much as tomorrow." (Those are the chorus words from their song.) Mary dies peacefully days later. After attending the funeral and finally reconciling with his daughter Iris and the rest of his family, Earl resumes the delivery as both the DEA and the cartel close in on him.

The cartel's enforcers catch him and, upon discovering he was missing in order to attend his wife's death and funeral, rather than execute Earl they call Gustavo in order to request leniency. The cartel boss acquiesces to this demand and allows Earl to continue. Earl proceeds to the drop point but the DEA agents finally catch up to him and arrest him. Agent Bates has a pleasant aside with Earl. In court, Earl's lawyer starts to give an impassioned plea asking for mercy for Earl due to his age and military service. However a clearly guilt-ridden Earl interrupts her to plead guilty to all charges and is promptly sent to federal prison. His family lend him their support and promise to visit with him. In prison, he returns to horticulture.




Close-up headshot of an old balding white male with white hair
The Mule is based on "The Sinaloa Cartel's 90-Year-Old Drug Mule", a New York Times article about Leo Sharp, pictured here upon his arrest in 2011 at the age of 87.

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 world's oldest and most prolific drug mule. The rights to the subsequent article, "The Sinaloa Cartel's 90-Year-Old Drug Mule" by Sam Dolnick,[3] were sold to Imperative Entertainment later that year.

Imperative hired Ruben Fleischer to direct and produce the film.[4] In February 2015, Nick Schenk was hired to adapt the article into a film screenplay.[5]

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.[6] 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.[7]


In January 2018, Eastwood was set to play the role of Earl Stone, a Korean War veteran[8] in his 80s,[9] based on World War II veteran Leo Sharp, who worked as a drug courier for a Mexican cartel.[6] 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.[10][11] 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.[12] More cast members 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.[7] That same month, Loren Dean joined the cast of the film.[13] In July 2018, Victor Rasuk was cast, and Manny Montana was also confirmed.[14]


Principal photography on the film began on June 4, 2018 in Atlanta, Rome, and Augusta, Georgia.[12][7] It was also shot in Las Cruces, New Mexico.[7]


The film was released on December 14, 2018 in the United States[15] and released on January 25, 2019 in the United Kingdom.[16] It premiered on December 10, 2018 in Westwood, California.[17]

Home media[edit]

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 Apple's iTunes Store and Vudu.[18]


Box office[edit]

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.[1]

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.[19][17] 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.[20] It made $9.5 million in its second weekend, finishing fifth, and then $4.9 million on Christmas Day.[21]

Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 71% based on 190 reviews, with an average rating of 6.2/10. 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."[22] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 58 out of 100, based on 37 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[23] 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.[20]

Peter Debruge of Variety wrote, "It's a great true story, colorfully told by Sam Dolnick in The New York Times".[24]

David Ehrlich of IndieWire gave the film a "B+" and called it Eastwood's best in over 25 years, writing:

This soulful and deeply satisfying film—a fitting swan song, 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.[25]

In 2019, The Mule was included in Richard Brody's list of the 27 best films of the decade.[26]


  1. ^ a b c "The Mule (2018)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved October 30, 2019.
  2. ^ Fujitani, Ryan (December 14, 2018). "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Is Certified Fresh". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved December 13, 2018.
  3. ^ Dolnick, Sam (June 11, 2014). "The Sinaloa Cartel's 90-Year-Old Drug Mule". The New York Times. Retrieved June 15, 2014.
  4. ^ Yamato, Jen (November 4, 2014). "Ruben Fleischer To Direct Movie About 90-Year-Old Drug Mule". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved June 4, 2018.
  5. ^ Sneider, Jeff (February 24, 2015). "'The Judge' Writer Nick Schenk to Adapt Elderly Drug Mule Tale for 'Zombieland' Director (Exclusive)". TheWrap. Retrieved June 4, 2018.
  6. ^ a b Sneider, Jeff (January 30, 2018). "Clint Eastwood Circling 90-Year-Old Drug Courier Tale "The Mule" at Warner Bros., Imperative (Exclusive)". The Tracking Board. Retrieved June 4, 2018.
  7. ^ a b c d "Clint Eastwood's "The Mule" Begins Production". Business Wire. June 4, 2018. Retrieved June 4, 2018.
  8. ^ Stein, Ellin (January 19, 2019). "What's Fact and What's Fiction in The Mule?". Slate Magazine. Retrieved March 15, 2019. In the film, Stone is a veteran of Korea instead of World War II
  9. ^ "The Mule - Only in Cinemas". Eastwood stars as Earl Stone, a man in his 80s
  10. ^ Kroll, Justin (May 18, 2018). "Bradley Cooper to Star With Clint Eastwood in 'The Mule' (Exclusive)". Variety. Retrieved June 4, 2018.
  11. ^ N'Duka, Amanda (May 24, 2018). "Lobo Sebastian Cast In 'The Mule' & 'Words On Bathroom Walls'; Martha Kelly Joins 'Corporate Animals'". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved June 4, 2018.
  12. ^ a b Kit, Borys (June 4, 2018). "Dianne Wiest, Michael Pena Join Clint Eastwood's 'The Mule' (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved June 4, 2018.
  13. ^ Busch, Anita (June 11, 2018). "Loren Dean Joins 'The Mule'; Camrus Johnson Boards 'The Sun Is Also A Star'". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved June 11, 2018.
  14. ^ Pedersen, Erik; D'Alessandro, Anthony (July 17, 2018). "Victor Rasuk Joins Clint Eastwood's 'The Mule'". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved July 17, 2018.
  15. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (September 27, 2018). "Clint Eastwood's 'The Mule' Kicks Its Way Onto December Release Calendar". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved September 27, 2018.
  16. ^ "'The Mule' is in UK Cinemas January 2019". Retrieved October 8, 2018.
  17. ^ a b D'Alessandro, Anthony (December 11, 2018). "Look Out, Here Comes 'The Spider-Verse': Sony Animation Title Eyes $30M-$35M Opening – Box Office Preview". Retrieved December 11, 2018.
  18. ^ "The Mule DVD Release Date April 2, 2019". DVDs Release Dates. Retrieved February 13, 2019.
  19. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (November 21, 2018). "'Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse' Swinging To $30M-$40M Start – Early Tracking". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved November 21, 2018.
  20. ^ a b D'Alessandro, Anthony (December 16, 2018). "'Spider-Verse' Raises $35M+ As 'The Mule' Kicks Up $17M+ In Pre-Christmas Period, But 'Mortal Engines' Breaks Down With $7M+". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved December 17, 2018.
  21. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (December 23, 2018). "'Aquaman' Grabs $67M+ Weekend For $72M+ Cume; 2018 B.O. Poised To Pass $11.4B For New Record – Early Sunday Update". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved December 23, 2018.
  22. ^ "The Mule (2018)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved October 10, 2021.
  23. ^ "The Mule (2018) reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved February 4, 2019.
  24. ^ Debruge, Peter (December 12, 2018). "Film Review: Clint Eastwood in 'The Mule'". Retrieved December 13, 2018.
  25. ^ Ehrlich, David (December 12, 2018). "'The Mule' Review: Clint Eastwood's Best Movie in More than 25 Years". IndieWire. Penske Business Media. Retrieved December 13, 2018.
  26. ^ "The Twenty-Seven Best Movies of the Decade". The New Yorker. Retrieved November 28, 2019.

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