Art is a funny thing. I've seen a lot of good movies this past year-- both new and old. I've also seen some real clunkers. Some real shitty movies that just got my goat and really made me angry. The Mule, the latest film by famed film-maker and shitty boyfriend, Clint Eastwood, is neither of these things.
And yet, I can't stop thinking about it.
It's not good. It's not bad*. It's just inherently strange and that it isn't one thing or another is what is so exceptionally strange about it. That a man who felt so strongly about Barack Obama that he rambled at a chair in front of a live studio audience, at a time where the nation is run by a mentally-deficient sex-offending, con artist-- where the panic against Latinx people and refugees requires a big dumb wall and where children are being put in concentration camps and are dying-- you'd think that some sort of passion would be present. That there was something about this story that had to be told. That something, even something truly ugly, would slip out.
And it doesn't.
It goes on for two hours and then it just sort of ends.
It's a truly baffling picture, because at least I understand the impetus of Sully or American Sniper or, especially, Gran Torino. One would almost have to go out of their way not to cast their lots one way or the other when it comes to something as sensitive and as fraught with controversy as the border and the War on Drugs. And yet, no decision seems to be made at any point for any reason other than to make a picture.
And yes, what I'm saying is that I kind of wish that Eastwood had been a little more racist. That baring his blackened heart would have at least been art of some kind.
At 200 years old, you'd think that the only thing that could tempt Eastwood out of his crypt would be a story that he really needs to tell. One that really speaks to him. Presumably a story where he gets to say racial slurs for millions and millions of dollars. The Mule doesn't seem to be it. That the one bicentennarian on earth who doesn't have an opinion about Those People directs movies is actually more fascinating than the movie itself.
I was talking to Cruz, a friend of mine with whom I co-host A Quality Interruption, and I was explaining this movie to him, trying to make sense of it and how I felt about it and, really, I was just dropping the ball on it (as if you couldn't tell). I
He described to me a character from One-Hundred Years of Solitude**. The character is an old man who lived this full, long life-- adventure, war, romance, all that-- and now he was at the end of his life and all he did to fill his time was making aluminum fish. Once he's done making his little fish, he then melts it down and starts all over again. That seems to be what Clint Eastwood is doing. He's tinkering. He's making movies to stay busy. In its own way that's admirable. The hitch I'm having is why make this movie just to stay busy?
What is more than that-- how in all of the time of staying busy do you make a movie so listless and basic after nearly fifty years of directing your own movie?
Here are some highlights that before I go:
- This movie has Michael Pena in it. That's always a good sign.
- Diane Wiest is in this? That's great!
- In this film, the titular mule (as played by Clint Eastwood) has not one, but two threesomes. People give Tom Cruise shit for always making sure that his romantic interest is hotter and younger that he can actually pull (lest we start wondering about things), but Eastwood is the master of this. He did the same shit twenty years ago with Blood Simple and here it's even stranger and sadder. Now, while, we all love a dirty old man, I have to wonder about the motives of Eastwood making sure that people know that grandpa can still fuck.
- In this movie Eastwood's character is a florist. I swear to god. It's literally the first scene.
- You would only have to change, like, three things, and this would just be an episode of The Simpsons where grandpa accidentally gets recruited by Los Zetas. And, actually, I'd kind of like to see that.
- Most of the movie is just an old man driving through the mid-west listening to Oldies. Honestly, if there was one actual reason a pre-Boomer lith made this movie, that might be it.
* We all thought abut completing that joke, but not all of us did it. Sometimes the best writing happens because of what you decide not to do.
** A book that I'm not even going to pretend that I've read.
James Kislingbury is a writer, podcaster, and bakery clerk. You can listen to him here and here. You can shovel piles of lucre at him here and here.