Connor Bynum // Film Critic
When we reviewed Clint Eastwood’s THE MULE in late 2018, our own Courtney Howard was less than thrilled with the way the film handled its truly incredible source material and generally failing to have anything new to say. With the film now available on 4K UHD, it’s time to see if an increase in resolution and color depth are enough to justify a second ride.
Movie Grade: C-
From our theatrical review:
“Clint Eastwood’s THE MULE is based on a thought-provoking New York Times article about a thrilling cat-and-mouse game, a true-life tale that’s also a treatise on modern capitalism and the changing socio-political landscape. But the film takes the elegantly-written and stimulating story and changes it into something virtually weightless and, at times, baffling. This ripped-from-the-headlines story about a 90-year-old horticulturist and war vet turned drug mule is practically retrofitted to Eastwood’s cinematic sensibilities (aged down a smidge to suit his real age) and assuredly hits on a few of his beloved hallmarks, yet the delivery feels nothing short of muted and manufactured.
Though the article and the film both contain statements about technology shaking up previous generations’ lifestyles (here, Eastwood rails multiple times about younger generations’ attachment to their smartphones),the filmmakers take things a step too far in trying to be socially relevant, negating its good intentions. Earl’s casual racism, shown in scenes where he calls Mexicans “beaners” and a family he helps “negroes,” is played comedically like it’s quaint. But later, in a sequence where a Latino gentleman is stopped by the DEA, Eastwood makes sure to get generous close-ups of that gentleman repeatedly stating, “this is the most dangerous five minutes of my life,” bringing to light the dangers of traffic stops for people of color.
With an entirely predictable climax and nary any sense of mounting intensity in getting there, THE MULE fails to fully deliver the goods.”
Video/Audio Grade: B+
THE MULE is presented in 4K UHD by means of an upscale from a 2K Digital Intermediate. Despite not being a native 4K transfer, the improvement in resolution is certainly noticeable when compared to the standard 1080p Blu-ray disc. Textures in both skin and costumes are especially clearer in close ups, with the wrinkles on Eastwood’s face as a standout example of the increase in picture quality.
Eastwood’s filmography is no stranger to particularly muted color pallets, and THE MULE is no exception. That being said, the inclusion of HDR10 takes the rather limited range of colors on display and greatly expands them to a much more vibrant picture. Night scenes look fantastic with blacks that never feel crushed or unnaturally grey.
On the audio side, THE MULE features a decent DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track that is perfectly fine for this film. Having a 7.1, or even a Dolby Atmos track, would be highly unnecessary for THE MULE as it is primarily dialogue driven with very little effects. The musical score certainly takes the most advantage of the 5.1 setup, even if most of it is diegetically played through car radios.
Extras Grade: C-
There are no extras included on the 4K disc. This should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the format, but the fact that only two features are included on the 1080p Blu-ray is hardly enough reason to even give them a look in the first place. There is a single feature breaking down the making of the film and a music video for one of the songs featured in the movie, all clocking in at less-than-fifteen minutes in total.
A digital copy is also included and can be viewed in 4K on qualifying streaming devices.
Special features listed below:
- “Nobody Runs Forever: The Making of The Mule” (10:59, 1080p)
- Toby Keith “Don’t Let the Old Man In” Music Video (2:54, 1080p / Dolby Digital 2.0)
Final Grade: B-
While this film will certainly not be anyone’s first choice to demo their fancy new 4K home theater setup, it is unquestionably an improvement over the Blu-ray. Diehard Eastwood fans likely already have decided to pick this one up for their collection. For everyone else who’s curious enough to give it a shot, let’s opt in for a rental instead.