The Mule Packs Quite a Kick Despite Missing Deeper Story
By Peter Lucas
The impact may not be like being kicked by a mule.
But the movie this new year is nevertheless a film worth seeing, if only because of Clint Eastwood.
It is his film “The Mule,” a story about an aging Michigan horticulturist who becomes a drug runner -- a mule with a pickup truck -- after his marriage and business go bust.
Clint Eastwood plays Earl Stone, a rotten husband, rotten father (probably a rotten golfer, too) who, facing foreclosure, is offered a job that requires some driving, something he loves to do in his battered old pickup.
He is unaware during the first run from the southern border to Detroit that he is hauling drugs from a Mexican cartel, but he soon finds out. The money is so great, though, that he becomes hooked -- not on drugs, but on the cash.
He gets away with it for a long time, mainly because he is an old geezer in his 80s who nobody -- including the cops -- pay much attention to. The money allows him to redeem himself with his family. He pays for his granddaughter’s education and wedding.
A World War II combat veteran, he also bails out the local VFW when it runs into financial trouble.
He becomes a legend in the drug trade. He is called Tata, which is Spanish slang for grandfather. It all comes to an end when he is finally apprehended by DEA agent Colin Bates, played by Bradley Cooper.
Eastwood’s portrait of Stone, who is about the same age as Eastwood (pushing 90) is so sympathetic that Bates is almost apologetic for having to arrest the old gent and send him to prison.
Whatever happened to Dirty Harry, the Harry who would have blown the man’s head off with his .44 Magnum? The Dirty Harry who, taunting the bad guy, takes out his .44 Magnum and snarls, “Go ahead, punk, make my day?” Or, who says, ” ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?”
The answer is that Dirty Harry got old, just like Clint Eastwood and Earl Stone. So, instead of the Bradley Cooper character pulling out a gun, he asks solicitously about the cuts on Stone’s face and tells him to “Hang in there.”
Eastwood is so sympathetic to the Stone character that nowhere in the film is there any serious mention of the thousands of lives destroyed by the hundreds of kilos of cocaine that the mule brought into the Detroit area.
Nor is there any mention of how rich Stone became as a carrier for the Mexican cartels, or what he did with that money.
Earl Stone, the character that Eastwood plays, in real life was Leo Sharp, a failed day-lily farmer who ended up hauling into Detroit more cocaine than it had ever seen before.
New York Times writer Sam Dolnick described Sharp as a “one-man cocaine fountain.”
Dolnick in 2014 wrote a New York Times Magazine piece on Sharp that was used for a screenplay that became the movie.
However, there was more drama and information about Sharp and his drug career that was left out of the movie than was put in, including his death after serving one year of a three-year prison sentence handed down when he was 90 years old.
Sharp became a drug mule after one of the Mexican workers on his failed day-lily farm introduced him to drug dealers, who deliberately hired couriers who played against type.
One such driver was a former heavy-equipment operator with a clean driving record who was out on disability after four heart attacks.
“Leo is the perfect courier for the cartel,” a DEA agent told Dolnick. “He has a legitimate ID, he’s an older guy, he wouldn’t be pegged as a drug runner and he has no criminal record.”
The question at Sharp’s trial was whether the old drug mule was “savvy or senile,” according to Dolnick.
The prosecution said that Sharp was shrewd enough to have avoided suspicion, arrest and prosecution for over a decade. In addition, they pointed out, the number of “wrecked lives” Sharp left behind him was simply “staggering.”
In court Sharp said, “I’m heartbroken. I did what I did, but it’s done.”
Sharp was released from prison in 2015 and died a year later. He was 94.
The movie may miss a beat or two but, being deluged with drugs as we are, it is worth seeing. It is vintage Clint Eastwood.
(Note: Locally, Canton police a week ago arrested a 75-year old man from Ashburnham for allegedly carrying 150 pounds of marijuana, worth $500,000, in his truck.)
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