The Mule Movie Review
Welcome to this The Mule movie review for English learners. The Mule was our first “Movie Club” film of 2023, chosen as part of a Clint Eastwood theme.
The movie is based on the true story of a World War two veteran, Leo Sharp, who became a drug runner for the Sinaloa cartel while in his 80s.
Clint Eastwood spotted the story and decided to adapt it, creating the character Earl Stone, 90-year-old horticulturalist and Korean war veteran.
Nick Schenk wrote the script, basing his screenplay on Sam Dolnick’s New York Times Magazine Article “The Sinaloa Cartel’s 90-Year Old Drug Mule”.
In this The Mule movie review, you’ll discover more about the movie, find out what we discussed in “Movie Club” as well as our thoughts on the film. Let’s go!
The Mule: Plot Summary
At the start of the movie, Earl finds himself homeless and jobless after internet flower businesses cause his day lily flower farm to go bankrupt.
But he can’t turn to family for help.
Twelve years before, he chose to collect a lifetime achievement award rather than attend his daughter’s wedding.
She stopped speaking to him and his wife divorced him. The only family member he’s on good terms with is his granddaughter, Ginny.
In need of money and with a clean driving license, Earl ends up driving for a living, doing runs for a drug cartel.
The job pays so well that after two runs, he’s back on his feet financially. He gets his house back and buys a shiny new truck.
Instead of stopping there though, Earl decides to keep driving for the cartel and soon becomes their top mule.
As an elderly white man, no-one suspects for a second that he could be transporting drugs.
Earl is a rather selfish guy who has always preferred being out and about in the world to being home with his family.
So driving for the cartel suits him.
He spends his days singing along to Frank Sinatra songs, stopping whenever he wants and enjoying life (including, surprisingly, having two threesomes with prostitutes!).
At the same time, coming into all that money helps him reconcile a little with his family, as he pays for both Ginny’s wedding and her school tuition.
While Earl is moving up the ranks in the cartel, DEA agent Colin Bates, played by Bradley Cooper, wants to get promoted by taking down the cartel.
He and his partner Trevino, played by Michael Pena, have started working with an informant from the cartel, who gives them intel about a courier nicknamed “el tata”, the grandfather.
While Earl does well in the cartel at the start, things at the top are about to change and soon he won’t have his usual freedoms anymore.
Will Earl cross paths with the DEA at some point? Will he reconcile fully with his family?
The Mule: Discussions From The Movie Club
Here are some of the themes that came up in our discussion of “The Mule” in “Movie Club”. These discussions allowed the club members to express deeper thoughts in English and learn new vocabulary for talking about these themes.
Eastwood adapted the original story of real-life elderly drug mule Leo Sharp into a sort of road movie, filling in blanks about what Leo’s life on the road must have been like.
He also added the parts about a man who has chosen work over family and is now dealing with their rejection.
The movie explores themes to do with work, money and masculinity. In a memorable scene, Earl and Colin cross paths although neither knows who the other is at that point.
Earl tells Bates:
“Don’t follow my footsteps and do what I did. I put work in front of family. Family’s the most important thing.”
But why do so many people, especially men, end up putting work in front of family? Is it because they want to or is it what the system demands?
In “Movie Club” we also discussed the fact that many people past retirement age in the US have to continue working to survive. We came across an article with a shocking statistic:
“Millions of Americans are working into the years when they would typically retire – by 2030, the number of people aged 75 and older in the workforce is expected to grow by 96.5%, according to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics.”
The Mule: Discussion Questions
For all of our Movie Club discussions, we use the same questions which spark meaningful conversations.
But I like to add some specific discussion questions for each film. In the case of “The Mule”, here are some of those questions:
- The critics seem to have quite mixed opinions about this movie – why do you think that is?
- What does the movie have to say about money and work?
- Is it ethical to use “bad” money for “good” purposes?
The last question relates to the fact that Earl starts spending money from the drug runs on his family. He also uses the money to help renovate his local Veterans of Foreign Wars building which was damaged in a fire.
The Mule Movie Review
Warning – this section contains spoilers!
I’m rather sentimental, so I enjoyed watching as Earl reconciles with his family, eventually taking a huge risk to finally choose work over family for once in his life. And in a moment where it really matters.
The road trip elements were fun too, but there were some rather bizarre moments.
For example, at one point, Earl mistakes a member of a lesbian biker gang for a man, calling her “son”. Another biker explains that they’re “Dykes on bikes”. Is this just so we could hear Earl say “dykes”?
As with “Gran Torino” (a previous “Movie Club” choice), you’ll hear racist slurs during the film, but it’s not clear if they’re simply included to shock people or if we’re supposed to be laughing at Earl’s cluelessness.
In any case, throughout the film, his white privilege enables him to drive drugs around without any problems, even when he does have a couple of encounters with the police.
The movie received mixed reviews from critics, but overall, the club members and I enjoyed it. Two of them had seen it before and were happy to watch it again.
Can You Improve Your English With The Mule?
Just like with any movie, you can use it to improve your English. But in order to do that effectively, passively watching the movie isn’t enough. For more on how to learn English with films, check out this post on how to learn English with Netflix.
One of my new club members particularly enjoyed doing dictations in week 2 of the club, as they allowed her to catch new expressions she would have missed otherwise.
Otherwise, what kind of words and expressions did we learn from watching this movie?
- words to do with law enforcement such as “warrant”, “informant” and “DEA (drug enforcement agency”.
- words to do with bankruptcy and financial difficulty such as “foreclosure”
- words to do with regret such as “I blew it”.
And of course the themes of money, work, family and regret are universal topics that make for some fascinating discussions, especially between people of different cultures.
One thing that was tricky to understand in this movie was the fast, unclear speech and slang of the members of the cartel. So you may want to use subtitles to catch the dialogue in those parts of the movie.
Otherwise, if you’re a Spanish speaker here’s some good news. Parts of the dialogue between the cartel members happen in Spanish, so you’ll be able to understand those bits.
Discuss Movies Like “The Mule” In Movie Club
“Movie Club” is a supportive and friendly community of movie lovers where you can learn and practice your English in a safe space. The club opens for enrolment three times a year. The next round, May to July, will open in April to new members. Find out more and join us.