Clint Eastwood has been responsible for some of the most iconic and lasting movies ever made, both as a director and an actor. In films such as "A Fistful of Dollars" and "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly," he helped redefine the western for a modern audience—but it was as a director that he managed to achieve immortality.
With several stone-cold classics under his belt as a filmmaker ("A Perfect World," "Mystic River" and "Letters from Iwo Jima," to name a few), it's "Unforgiven" that will be remembered as his masterpiece. It's one of the few perfect films ever made. One of the things that makes Eastwood such a boss: he never tries to repeat his success. He makes the movies he has a passion for and doesn't really care about how they're received.
"The Mule" is Eastwood's best film since "Letters from Iwo Jima," and while it doesn't reach the heights of his output from the '90s, it's a fascinating look at the themes that are important to Eastwood as he approaches his 90s. On the surface, "The Mule" is a simple story of an elderly horticulturalist named Earl Stone who becomes a drug mule for a Mexican cartel, but he's not as interested in the nuts and bolts of the drug trade as he would have been a decade ago.
There's a sense that what Eastwood really cares about is the idea of legacy. Stone ignored his family for decades while basking in the glow and popularity his beautiful flowers provided him. Fallen on hard times, Stone starts delivering packages of heroin with zero compunction about the morality or legal consequences of his actions. Most of the film follows him as he spends his newfound money on prostitutes and saving his old VFW hall.
It's nice to see Eastwood having fun, leaving the moralizing behind, focusing more on Stone having three-ways and making friends with low level cartel members. "The Mule" is understated; Eastwood shows Stone enjoying his golden years while still finding time to regret the utter abandonment of his family. Whenever "The Mule" threatens to become something more serious and elegiac, Eastwood pulls back, finds the ridiculousness of the situation and mines it for dark humor.
The film isn't perfect, but it still shows that Eastwood has passion as a storyteller. Last year's "The 15:17 to Paris" was easily the worst film of his directorial career, leading some to believe Eastwood had lost his passion for filmmaking. While he might not have another "Unforgiven" in him, "The Mule" proves that he still has stories he needs to tell and the passion in which to tell them.