Updated: Apr 18, 2019
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2018; R for profanity throughout and brief sexuality/nudity; streaming via Amazon Video/Prime, FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), iTunes (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: One real bonus feature, “The Mule: Nobody Runs Forever”
CLINT EASTWOOD and his daughter Alison both gave up acting some time ago. “Gran Torino” (2008), which he also directed, was supposedly his swansong. But in 2012, he was back at it again, this time as an aging baseball scout in “Trouble with the Curve.” Alison spent her career mostly doing bit-parts, the last being “Finding Harmony,” that didn’t register a single review on Rotten Tomatoes.
During his acting hiatus, Clint didn’t rest on his laurels. He produced and directed seven diverse films: “Invictus” (2009), “Hereafter” (2010), “J. Edgar” (2011), “Jersey Boys” (2014) “American Sniper” (2014), “Sully” (2016) and “The 15:17 to Paris” (2018).
Then last year Eastwood read the latest script from Nick Schenk, who also penned “Gran Torino,” the story of Korean War vet Walt Kowalski, still haunted by the war and living in a crime-ridden Detroit neighborhood. Schenk’s “The Mule” is loosely adapted from an incredible New York Times article about a Detroit D.E.A.’s investigation into the Mexican Sinaloa cartel, and its notorious drug mule, El Tata (Grandfather), who just happened to be an 87-year-old man with Iowa plates.
“Once in a while, somebody puts a story out that you get interested in, and this was very different from anything I’ve ever done before.” — Actor/Director/Producer, Clint Eastwood
Co-producer Kristina Rivera also read the script and knew right away Clint should be on board. Eastwood, who turns 89, next month, was ideal to play Earl Stone, based on real-life mule Leo Sharp, who drove a black Lincoln pickup and transported between 100-300 kilos of cocaine per trip from an Arizona border town to Michigan for ten years.
Schenk credits Eastwood for breathing life into his script as the stubborn Earl Stone, a Korean War veteran who’s out of step with modern society. Like his role in “Gran Torino,” Earl is a sexist and bigot. Initially, he has no regret for putting his standing as a nationally recognized horticulturist and florist – specializing in daylilies – ahead of his family.
That’s where “The Mule” takes a fictional detour; introducing a back story in which Earl is estranged from his ex-wife Mary (Dianne Wiest) and daughter Iris (Alison Eastwood), who refuses to speak to him. Alison’s husband had to convince her to take up acting again. “He told me I would regret if I didn’t,” she says. Earl’s granddaughter Ginny, who still believes in him, is played by Taissa Farmiga.
Leo Sharp was actually a World War II vet, with a spotless criminal record and still married to his wife Ann; his daughter lived in Hawaii. Both men are prized horticulturists, whose businesses suffered a major downturn when internet vendors begin selling his flowers. Both get into drug running as a way to resurrect their daylily farms, while giving large amounts of money to community efforts including the VFW. “The Mule” also changed its landscape from Michigan to outside of Chicago, and shortens Tata’s courier travels to a couple years.
Bradley Cooper’s character Agent Colin Bates was based on Special Agent Jeff Moore, who NYT editor/journalist Sam Dolnick interviewed for the 2014 Sunday Magazine article. Handwritten drug ledgers, which the D.E.A. obtained, said Tata delivered 246 kilos in February 2010, 250 kilos for the next two months and 200 kilos for May and June. Moore described Tata as an “urban legend.” During Leo Sharp’s trial, he admitted transporting over a ton of cocaine into Michigan for $1.25 million in cash.
The 10-minute making-of featurette on the Blu-ray and streaming sites include a number of short interviews from the cast and Eastwood, who describes the differences and similarities between Walt Kowalski of “Gran Torino” and Earl Stone. “Walt just wants peace and quiet, and this guy (Earl) loves the road, the excitement of the road. And, he loves to meet people. But, they both, in the long run, come up to the same thing. They change.”
Eastwood and the crew spent three long days filming him behind the wheel in New Mexico for Mexico, and Southwest scenery and highways near Augusta, Georgia, for Missouri and Illinois.
Alison Eastwood said her dad, “Found a new, rekindled romance with acting, which is really lovely for someone his age.” Eastwood, who is still quite active, had to downplay his mobility, says Cooper. “He’s so virile. He gets out of a chair like a kangaroo, but Earl doesn’t.”
The supporting cast also includes Andy Garcia as the cartel kingpin, Laurence Fishburne as Agent Bates’ boss, and Michael Peña as his partner, Agent Treviño.
“The Mule” is another 4K presentation from an up-converted 2K master sourced 2.8K and 3.4K digital cameras (2.39:1 aspect ratio), which features a bright and vibrant picture – especially compared to the HD versions. The HDR toning enriches the color palette in yellows, reds, and orange from the daylilies, providing a REAL pop, while facial toning is balanced and natural among the diverse cast. Overall sharpness is up a click or two up from wide shots to the close-ups of blooms.
The 4K and Blu-ray both have six-channel DTS-HD soundtracks, surprisingly minus any Dolby Atmos track for height speakers. Overall, the sound is balanced between dialogue, effects and musical cues from composer and jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval. Eastwood has been a jazz lover and pianist himself for years, and the soundtrack features several classic pop tunes including “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head” and “Alá en el Rancho Grande,” both from Dean Martin, “Dang Me” by Roger Miller, “Country Club” from Travis Tritt, “On the Road Again” by Willie Nelson, and “Don’t Let the Old Man In” by Toby Keith.
Eastwood is quite believable as Earl Stone, with “The Mule” falling in the middle of the pack of his most recent films. It made $169 million against a modest budget and landed with a 69 percent rating from top critics on Rotten Tomatoes.
We've got to wonder how many more films does Clint have within himself?
― Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer