Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 2018. Warner Bros., Imperative Entertainment, Bron Creative, The Malpaso Company, Bron Studios. Screenplay by Nick Schenk, inspired by the New York Times article “The Sinaloa Cartel’s 90-Year Old Drug Mule” by Sam Dolnick. Cinematography by Yves Belanger. Produced by Clint Eastwood, Dan Friedkin, Jessica Meier, Tim Moore, Kristina Rivera, Bradley Thomas. Music by Arturo Sandoval. Production Design by Kevin Ishioka. Costume Design by Deborah Hopper. Film Editing by Joel Cox.
Director Clint Eastwood reunites with his Gran Torino scribe Nick Schenk for another tale of a lovable old coot, this time a Korean war veteran whose obsession with his day lilies and the parties that accompany his horticultural conventions has already led to his divorce (from Dianne Wiest) and estrangement from his daughter (Alison Eastwood). Now nearing ninety, he must also face the impending foreclosure by the bank on his home, so he jumps at the chance when a stranger tips him off to the moneymaking possibilities of being a paid driver. Eastwood at first pretends not to know he’s working for drug dealers, taking heavy, mysterious bags from El Paso, Texas back up to his native Illinois, and with the cash that he is given pays off all debts on his house. When he finds out that his local veterans’ organization could use some cash for a renovation after a fire, he takes another trip, then another to pay for his granddaughter’s wedding and back and forth a number of times until he has fully broken bad, aware of what he is doing and smart about avoiding trouble for it (the scene where he throws a police dog off his scent with Ben-Gay is both shamelessly manipulative and highly entertaining at the same time). Meanwhile, the kingpin of the cartel he is running for (Andy Garcia) is enjoying himself at his Mexican ranch and is pleased with Eastwood’s work, and DEA agents Michael Peña and Bradley Cooper rope in an informant who brings them closer and closer to this mysterious mule who is moving insane amounts of product around the country. Returning to the screen for the first time in six years, the great Eastwood has without a doubt been transformed by time, at eighty-eight frailer and more hunched over than he has ever looked, but neither the charisma nor the command have waned. The film moves at the quiet but arresting pace that his best are blessed with, never overplaying its efforts at either tension or humour, while Wiest provides the emotional side of the story with her lively appearance as the woman at odds with her own feelings about her frustrating ex-husband.