The Mule 4K Blu-ray Review
"For what it's worth, I'm sorry for everything."
The Mule Film Review
The legendary Eastwood returns to the limelight for undoubtedly one of the last times, charming us with this familiar tale of drug running, only here graced with unlikely redemption.Eastwood is one of those very rare A-list actors who has found some measure of impressive success behind the camera as well. Over the past 55 years, since his breakthrough starring role in A Fistful of Dollars, he's led the cast in almost as many movies (48), but he's directed considerably more features than you might expect (37), directing a whopping seven films over the last decade alone, even though he's only acted in two.
The Mule is the first film he's starred in and directed since 2008's Gran Torino, and his first starring role since 2012's The Trouble with the Curve (which, although he didn't direct it, still felt quintessentially Eastwood in style). Ostensibly, it jumps on the true story drug-running bandwagon which appears to have snowballed in popularity since Narcos, seeing even Cruise get on board for the slightly atypical American Made just a year earlier.
Thankfully The Mule has a slightly bigger, smaller, story to tell which goes beyond its simple structure of a down-on-his-luck 'innocent' who slips into the world of drug trafficking, allowing Eastwood to shine through with a charming, often even fragile performance as a man who has been on the road all of his life and is still running away from the regrets he has over having been an absentee parent and husband.
Eastwood gives the feature a surprising amount of heart which makes up for the more than familiar drug story
Earl is a celebrated horticulturist who has put his work above his family to the detriment of any personal relationships, finding that when his flower business starts to fail under the weight of internet ease-of-access, he is just a broke old man who has been estranged from his wife for many years and hasn't spoken to his own daughter in over a decade. A chance offer of being paid to 'drive' sees Earl immediately interested, and after the money that comes in helps pay for his granddaughter's wedding, he sees this new work as a life-line, saving his house from repossession, and turning his life around, despite the fact that he knows that he is getting in deeper with some unsavoury characters who could potentially turn on him at any moment.
There's nothing particularly eventful about The Mule, which follows the course of just about every drug-running movie ever made, charting the lows, and highs, followed by the inevitable crash back down, but Eastwood takes the opportunity to slow-burn a warm core that focuses on his character's loss of family contact, giving the feature a surprising amount of heart which makes up for the more than familiar drug story.
A game cast join him for the journey, although these are almost all glorified cameo roles, with the likes of Bradley Cooper, Andy Garcia, Lawrence Fishburne, Michael Pena, Dianne Wiest, Taissa Farmiga, and indeed Eastwood's own daughter Alison - playing his on-screen, estranged, daughter - colouring out the edges in nice supporting parts. It's Eastwood himself who charms his way well out front, absorbing himself in a character which may be all too easy for him to relate to - given his prolific and professional work ethic - and stealing the whole show even at 88 years old. Fans can only hope that this won't be Eastwood's last acting role (undoubtedly he'll keep directing way past 100) but, much like Redford's The Old Man and The Gun, if it is, this is as fitting a swansong as any.
The Mule 4K PictureThe Mule comes to UK Ultra HD Blu-ray courtesy of Warner, matching up to their US release from just a couple of weeks ago, and delivering the same classically beautiful 4K presentation.
The disc presents an upscaled 3840 x 2160p resolution image utilising the film's original theatrical aspect ratio of widescreen 2.39:1. It uses 10-bit video depth, a Wide Colour Gamut (WCG) and High Dynamic Range (HDR), and is encoded using the HEVC (H.265) codec.
We reviewed the UK Ultra HD Blu-ray release of The Mule on an LG 55B7 Dolby Vision 4K Ultra HD OLED TV with an LG UP970 Dolby Vision 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player.
A classically beautiful 4K presentation
Although an unlikely candidate for not only a 4K release, but a near-demo 4K release, Eastwood's latest production hits you right from the outset with the stunning images of the vibrant flowers that his character has been growing, affording the film an opening shot which is easily freeze-frame picture perfection. The presentation brings forth superb clarity and focus where necessary, hardly holding back on the crags on Eastwood's own visage, even if the classical stylisation does give an occasional softness around the edges, which appears wholly in-line with the style of shoot.
Plenty of striking shots of broader panoramas and wide open vistas pepper the otherwise quite small-scale production, again reminding of just what the presentation has to offer, and whilst hardly as overwhelmingly dark as Eastwood is often known for, The Mule still boasts his classically informed trappings - with dominant browns, greys and blacks, and occasional splashes of more vibrant colour either through the vistas or the drug kingpin's villa - benefiting from loving and faithful HDR and WCG implementation to round out a rendition which may not be conventional demo material, but comes pretty damn close.
The Mule 4K SoundPerhaps as unlikely a candidate for Atmos treatment as it was for 4K treatment in the first place, maybe a 3D immersive track was wishful thinking, and thankfully it doesn't appear like viewers are missing a great deal with this DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 offering doing a stand-up job with the restrained, contemplative material.
Hardly demo territory, this is a very good track nonetheless
Enjoying Eastwood's now-trademark unassuming scoring style, The Mule still gives keen priority to the dialogue - taking in Eastwood's character's various impersonations mostly with ease - and has a few sporadic effects courtesy of the occasional gunshot or shotgun blast, and a circling helicopter that gives the surrounds some distinct degree of separation. It's the score that remains the most memorable component, however, despite how subtle it is, proving quietly effective at charting the melancholy but warm twilight era mood. Hardly demo territory, this is a very good track nonetheless.
The Mule 4K ExtrasNothing on the 4K disc, with the Blu-ray sporting a short Making-of Featurette peppered with interview clips from the cast and crew, and a Music Video
The Mule 4K VerdictFans can only hope that this won't be Eastwood's last acting role but, if it is, this is as fitting a swansong as any
It's amazing to see this prolific star/director return to both acting and directing duties at the not insignificant age of 88, turning in a familiar cautionary tale of real-life drug-running, made more interesting thanks to the veteran actor's charming lead role, conveying a sense of twilight regret and redemption. Warner's UK 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release affords the film largely excellent video and very good audio, as well as a couple of nice little extras, leaving it a worthwhile purchase for fans and Eastwood completists.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £24.99
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