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MOVIE REVIEW

The Mule

also known as “A csempész,” “A Mula,” “Correio de Droga,” “Il corriere - The Mule,” “La mule,” “Mula,” «Наркокур'eр», «Наркокурьер»
MPAA Rating: R-Rating (MPAA) for language throughout and brief sexuality/nudity.

Reviewed by: Ruth Eshuis
CONTRIBUTOR

Offensive to Very Offensive
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults
Genre:
Crime Mystery Drama
Length:
1 hr. 56 min.
Year of Release:
2018
USA Release:
December 14, 2018 (wide—2,588 theaters)
DVD: April 2, 2019
Copyright, Warner Bros. click photos to ENLARGE Copyright, Warner Bros. Copyright, Warner Bros. Copyright, Warner Bros.
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Warner Bros.

A man who is guilty of neglecting his family and being a terrible father—and the enormous guilt one feels when they fully realize what they have done and its ramifications

Money can’t make up for being a poor husband and father

You can’t buy time—or love

What is SEXUAL IMMORALITY? Answer

SEXUAL LUST—Why does God strongly warn us about it? Answer

CONSEQUENCES—What are the consequences of sexual immorality? Answer

Copyright, Warner Bros.

What is SIN AND WICKEDNESS? Is it just “bad people” that are sinners, or are YOU a sinner? Answer

Do Not Enter

Copyright, Warner Bros.

POVERTY—What does the Bible say about the poor? Answer

Poor in the Bible


Being too quick to fire off an insensitive joke

Copyright, Warner Bros.

Dealing with the many hard difficulties of old age

Memory problems

Copyright, Warner Bros.

The War on Drugs

DEA agents

Sinaloa drug cartel

Drug mules

Copyright, Warner Bros.

“The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23)

DEATH—WHY does it exist? Answer

Copyright, Warner Bros.

What is the FINAL JUDGMENT for breaking God’s laws? and WHAT do you need to know about it? Answer

What is ETERNAL LIFE? Answer

What is ETERNAL DEATH? Answer

Are you good enough to get to Heaven? Answer

How good is good enough? Answer

Featuring: Clint EastwoodEarl Stone
Bradley CooperColin Bates
Taissa Farmiga … Ginny
Michael PeñaEnforcer
Andy Garcia
Laurence FishburneDEA Special Agent
Alison Eastwood … Iris
Dianne WiestMary
Clifton Collins Jr. …
Manny Montana … Axl
See all »
Director: Clint Eastwood
Producer: Warner Bros.
Imperative Entertainment
See all »
Distributor: Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures. Trademark logo.
Warner Bros.

Note: This film was inspired by a true story told by the New York Times Magazine article “The Sinaloa Cartel’s 90-Year Old Drug Mule.”

“The Mule” is a somewhat charming film about grown families, consequences of work-life choices, and romantic love.

For couple hours we cruise the open country roads of USA with 90-year-old Earl Stone (Clint Eastwood), a wonderfully wrinkled elderly gentleman with a flawless driving record, as he uses criminal activity to attempt making amends for the deep hurts he’s inflicted on his neglected family. His life is changed by the wealth, danger and company involved in this job. All those around him, including his daughter Iris (played by Clint’s real-life daughter Alison) will also be changed by this unlikely drug mule’s interactions with them. Can a man who has failed so badly succeed in redeeming himself?

Targeted at an aging audience, “The Mule” certainly strikes a chord emotionally. The lovely scenery, flowing storyline, lovable characters and special everyday moments soften the dread of Earl’s risky tasks and find the right balance of sadness and smiles, leaving one feeling that they have just shared a day with a flawed but fascinating grandparent. A mature Christian may be able to enjoy some parts and appreciate the overall story, if able to ignore the bad language and other negative elements.

Nevertheless, I cannot widely recommend this movie.

Negative Elements

Although some attempts have been made to shield viewers from the coldness and seriousness of involvement with the Mexican drug cartel, a large amount of concerning content remains, and deceptive underlying messages. The tale is predominantly told from a worldview inconsistent with the Bible. The audience is encouraged to feel sorry for Earl and imagine that he has ‘fallen into’ the drug trafficking role. His strengths appear to outweigh his faults. Yet, as followers of Christ, we know that however temptation may be thrust upon us, we are responsible for the knowing and deliberate choice to continue in it. We are each doomed law-breakers. Good intentions and individual desire to care for ourselves or loved ones cannot negate our failure to respect God, the law and the greater good of society.

Nor can we—by ourselves—achieve redemption or reverse the damage of a lifetime’s failures. That is why when we each stand before the Judge, we will need the holy life of Jesus to take in our place when we are rightly declared guilty and our punishment announced. He has already paid that sentence in His mercy.

Why believers should use the law in evangelism? Answer

As I have already hinted, “The Mule” presents a one-sided and unrealistic story. The screenplay presents various kinds of sin (such as drug trafficking and use of prostitution), as though they do not have dire consequences for people—especially the victims whose stories are ignored here. I can barely believe that the script never addresses (or even hints at) the impacts of supply and use of illicit drugs.

Movie-goers who choose to see this film will also encounter many other opportunities to be offended, creeped out, tempted and disappointed. Swearing and threatening behaviors feature heavily, which is to be expected in this kind of story. There is one section that focuses heavily on the cartel’s use of women for sex, lingering unnecessarily on barely-clothed or only partially-clothed bodies. Here there is no option but to look away completely, during which you won’t miss anything important to the storyline.

The slow pace, sexual content, violent themes and moderately heavy language make this film completely unsuitable for children and teens, and, frankly, it would be unlikely to interest them. Only once in the whole story does a child or teen appear, and the topics discussed are all regarding adulthood.

Another unusual aspect is that dialog occasionally slips into other languages, sometimes using subtitles, which can be difficult to keep up with. As I don’t understand these cultural references, I’m unsure whether any are offensive. But some offending errors are separately made in attempts to politely refer to members of various ethnicities and people groups, including ‘Dykes On Bikes.’ Impolite comments are also made about characters’ youth and advanced age. Old age, illness, death and funerals are also addressed.

Positive Elements

Highlights are the excellent casting, reflective pace and nostalgic soundtrack. The music is particularly powerful—while gentle—for retaining a fitting sense of sorrow about Earl’s poor choices and predicament, even while he enjoys some so-called ‘improvements’ to his lifestyle. The luxury of the proceeds of crime is clearly soured by many aspects that negate its enjoyable parts. Violence is much less than I had expected, and I don’t recall any humor being unnecessary crude or sexualized.

Clint Eastwood shines as a believable protagonist who handles life with diplomacy and calmness. Earl’s family members are also very well portrayed. Their pain and joys feel real and raw—to the point that this could be hard for some viewers to watch.

I appreciate the relational touches in the story as characters come to know each other as more than a mere ‘type’. The phrase ‘you people’ is repeated often, along with other collective nouns that are at times considered offensive, prompting the audience to reconsider assumptions and the wording we use for people groups. Likewise those who have been offended often display tolerance and peace-making. Admirable adjustments are made by several characters to understand and care for one another. We are shown that basic respect, character and kindness go a long way toward ‘covering over a multitude of sins’, even after it seems too late. There is much thought-provoking dialog and the wisdom of an elderly man’s hindsight gives strong warnings against various parenting follies.

Spiritual

It is perhaps significant that just after making a very wrong decision, a character is listening to a radio evangelist who says, “He came to seek and save that which is lost, ” and the listener immediately reaches out to switch the radio to another station.

There are frequent mentions of money and ‘proving [one’s] worth’. Once characters say “Thank God” that a situation has improved, but the suggestion is that the “blessing” is not actually from God.

Conclusion

“The Mule” lives up to the trailers’ promises of telling an interesting and meaningful story about regret and attempts at redemption but it lacks spiritual depth and balance. I approached it with caution expecting extreme violence, heavy drug references and filthy language. It was a relief to find these absent but sadly there is no shortage of other problems and dangers for discerning viewers to take guard against. For most Christians who will consider attendance, the negatives would far outweigh the positives.

  • Violence: Moderately Heavy— • one sudden execution, from behind • references to torture and murder • dead body with reddened area of clothing • mainly threats and strongly intimidating language • • shouting • a machine gun waved around • crimes of violence • trafficking • disobedience of the law • guns tucked into belts, concealed in pockets or hands • car chases • shooting clay targets • human bite threatened • minor mistreatment of a dog makes it sneeze and whimper
  • Profane language: Heavy— • “J*sus” (3) • “G*d d*mn” (2) • “Oh my G*d” (3) • “H*ll” (7) • “d*mn” (5)
  • Vulgar/Crude language: Very Heavy— • “motherf****r” • other f-words (35+) • middle-finger shown to man • s-words (17+), including “Holy sh*t” • “a**hole” (4) • “a**” (7) • objectification of women • “b*tch” (2) • “son of a b*tch” (2) • “cr*p” • “p*ssed” • “gigolo”
  • Nudity: • a woman bares breasts in a sexual situation • cleavage • women in bikinis (one in a thong)—camera lingers on many women • topless men (several)
  • Sex: • The majority occurs in one scene. Earlier, a comment about a man becoming “someone’s b*tch” in prison. Twice, bedroom scenes that involve two women in with a man. The start of one encounter is seen. High-end prostitution is offered as incentive to continue criminal behavior, and a boss instructs a woman to show a man a good time. These women are never acknowledged as more than sex objects. • sexual comments • women dancing sexually • song with the words “gonorrhea” and “can’t pee-a”
  • Alcohol/Drugs: • view of large bricks of pressed white powder • frequent movement of these drugs, mostly in bags • drug raid yields several items of drug paraphernalia • several drinks are consumed, often unknown beverages, many kinds of alcohol • movie commences with an alcohol joke • smoking
  • Occult: Minor— No deliberate references nor is the occult featured—other than possibly in tattoos and Mexican symbology, but not prominent.

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.


Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Neutral
Neutral— I have to say there was one part that I could have done without and that was the scene where one woman takes her shirt off and shows top half nudity. Everything in this movie was reality and could very well have happened in the drug carrying world. There were some swear words, a murder and reference to having sex, but no actual sex scene. The movie was good, but, as a Christian, I should not have watched it—due to the above content.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 5
CJ, age 59 (USA)
Negative
Negative—Clint Eastwood did a good acting job and directing of the movie. But did anybody notice that he took a stab at racism with a scene where he goes to help an African American couple stranded by the side of the road with a flat tire and the movies portrays a less than intelligent human being that could not change a tire by himself and Clint called them “Color Folks.” See all »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4½
Courtland, age 66 (USA)

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Secular Movie Critics
…Clint Eastwood contemplates death, racism, pulled pork and gives one of his best performances… a spry, funny, moving film that never heads in the direction in which it looks like it’s about to head…
Keith Phipps, Slate
…This old mule is still kicking… persuasively expressive in conveying an old man’s regrets along with his desire to improve himself even in late age, “The Mule” shows that Eastwood's still got it, both as a director and actor. …Eastwood has made some slack and overlong pictures over the years, but this is not one of them, and there is visual vitality here…
Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter
…“The Mule” feels like Clint Eastwood’s magnum opus… What I find thrilling is the perception, precision, and immediacy—Eastwood’s unparalleled ability to craft arguments out of images, each shot slipping firmly into place with a lockstep sense of order that somehow leaves room for uncertainty. …
K. Austin Collins, Vanity Fair
…further proof Clint Eastwood is Hollywood’s all-time great… Eastwood’s performance is a wonder, another lovely, endearing, peculiar tightrope walk in a compelling and very touching little movie. …
John Nolte, Breitbart
…this movie is as much a eulogy for a country that Eastwood sees as slowly crumbling as it is for the life Earl chose to lead…
David Sims, The Atlantic
…it exerts a hard-to-ignore power…
Carson Lund, Slant
…thoughtful, bumpy crime tale…
Robert Abele, The Wrap