Even so, it’s remarkable that the four-time ­Oscar-winner is back so quickly. The Mule marks Eastwood’s second film as director inside a year, after making another true story tinged with violence, The 15:17 To Paris, which starred the three actual Americans who foiled a terrorist plot on a train bound for the French capital. In The Mule, the octogenarian is also in front of the camera for the first time in seven years, since 2012’s father-daughter tale Trouble With The Curve.

For an actor who started his career in the 1950s, coming to fame as Rowdy Yates in TV cowboy drama Rawhide, before gaining international ­acclaim as the cheroot-­smoking sharpshooter in Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy the ­following decade, he’s really put his on-screen work on the ­back-­burner these past years. Since 1995, when Eastwood turned 65, he’s starred in only nine films – all directed by him, apart from Curve, which was made by his producer Robert


A role only Eastwood could fill
Yet it’s not hard to see why he decided to return to the screen for The Mule. Earl Stone falls into that classic Eastwood ­category – the taciturn veteran out for one last ride. In the film, Stone is an award-winning horticulturist (OK, admittedly holding pruning shears isn’t quite as dangerous as holstering a .44 Magnum like his rogue cop Dirty Harry) who has fallen on hard times. His daylily farm faces foreclosure and he needs money for his granddaughter’s upcoming wedding.

You can probably guess the rest: approached by a Latino gentleman with a solution to his money worries, he’s soon drug-running for the cartels from Chicago to El Paso – an ageing white gardener in a pickup truck being the perfect cover for smuggling kilos of cocaine. Featuring Bradley Cooper, his star from 2014’s American Sniper as a DEA agent on his case, the twist comes with Stone donating his profits to worthy causes such as the local veteran’s centre, which is in dire need of renovations.

The actor famously played the lead role in the ‘Dirty Harry’ series. Getty
The actor famously played the lead role in the ‘Dirty Harry’ series. Getty
Eastwood’s 37th film as director, since making his debut with 1971’s psychological drama Play Misty For Me, The Mule is his first time directing himself since 2008’s Gran Torino, where he played a bigoted Korean War veteran. A spec script written by Nick Schenk arrived in a landscape of political correctness like a hand-grenade; as British newspaper The Guardian wrote: “no one else [but Eastwood] could conceivably have got away with the racist tirades, reactionary arias and bigoted broadsides”.

Association with incendiary characters
The same character sketch is roughed out for The Mule, also written by Schenk, with Stone dubbing African-­American characters as “negroes” and referring to the Mexican ­characters by the derogatory term “beaner”. Like Gran ­Torino’s Walt Kowalski, Stone was in the Korean War (­likewise, Eastwood was ­drafted into the United States army in 1951 for the same conflict, although served out his time at ­California’s Fort Ord as a swim instructor).

Eastwood’s own association with incendiary characters goes way back, of course, to Dirty Harry – which spawned five movies and became as defining in his career as his so-called ‘Man With No Name’ in Leone’s western trilogy. As Eastwood told a Cannes audience two years ago: “A lot of people thought it was politically incorrect. That was at the beginning of the era that we’re in now, where everybody thinks everyone’s politically correct. We’re killing ourselves by doing that. We’ve lost our sense of humour.”

It would, however, be too simplistic to paint the ­Republican-supporting Eastwood like these characters (not least because he’s played so many different men, from tough to tender). What does appear to be a common thread is the way the actor loves to be the man out of step with the world, just like his ageing ­gunslinger in 1992’s ­Unforgiven – the Eastwood-­directed western that won him the first two of his quartet of Oscars (his harrowing boxing drama Million Dollar Baby came out of nowhere to pinch the other twO. CLINT IS 90 YEARS OLD AND HOW THINGS ARE STANDING HE PLANS TO STILL WORK. A LEGENDARY REVOLVER WITH A CIGARETTE

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