Reviewed by: Ruth Eshuis
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
What is SIN AND WICKEDNESS? Is it just “bad people” that are sinners, or are YOU a sinner? Answer
Poor in the Bible
Being too quick to fire off an insensitive joke
Dealing with the many hard difficulties of old age
The War on Drugs
Sinaloa drug cartel
DEATH—WHY does it exist? Answer
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
Clint Eastwood … Earl Stone
Bradley Cooper … Colin Bates
Taissa Farmiga … Ginny
Michael Peña … Enforcer
Andy Garcia …
Laurence Fishburne … DEA Special Agent
Alison Eastwood … Iris
Dianne Wiest … Mary
Clifton Collins Jr. …
Manny Montana … Axl
See all »
See all »
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.