Again on The Mule
By Alberto Mingardi
Like David Henderson, I watched The Mule and enjoyed the movie. I tend to enjoy all of Eastwood’s movies, but I thought this was particularly good: I’d rank it slightly better than Gran Torino, too. One of the reasons I thought the movie was so good—and here the reviewer shall disclose his weaknesses!—was its message. I find it naturally agreeable, for all that David mentions, to which I shall add a further point. I found it to be a great movie about unintended consequences.
Of course, the first unintended consequence Eastwood forces you to consider is the emergence of a hugely profitable business (drug trafficking), precisely because the legal circulation of drugs has been prohibited. The impression the viewer has, if he pauses a minute, is that banning drug made rich some very awful guys.
Then, when it comes to the core of the story, we see it develop as a spectacular unintended consequence of top down attempts to profit-maximizing. His new bosses grow impatient with Earl Stone (Eastwood character)’s way of managing its business. They look at them from above and consider them to be wasteful, and think the same results could be accomplished with a far more economical use of time. Yet the audience knows that Stone is relatively successful precisely because of the way in which he is tackling his job. It is the very fact that he is an eccentric that makes him so successful. This a boss with some experience in the field would recognize. This was understood by his former bosses, who were satisfied with the terrific results Stone was bringing in and didn’t question his methods. But the new guys, as soon as they walk up to the cartel’s pyramid, think they know better and that can micro-manage Stone at distance. It is precisely what makes him, ultimately, fail.
Then comes Earl Stone’s own personal life. This is not so much about unintended consequences but, well, mistakes, partly due to short-termism partly due to changing priorities in life. Here the story is, in part, one of redemption and self-correction. There is room for such things.
Now, none of the above is necessarily “new” in movies. Quite the opposites: great stories are often about unexpected twists of fate. But I found The Mule to be very profound and splendidly made, not unlikely some other Eastwood’s movies.