A 90-year-old Korean War vet is roped into being a drug mule for a Mexican cartel.
There are hundreds of movies that come out every year; a very few are awful, a great portion of them are middling, and very seldom, we get a great film. This is the definition of a middling movie; it’s not offensively bad, it’s not remarkably good, it just is. There are a few very good scenes, most of which belong to acting vets Clint Eastwood (“Unforgiven”), Bradley Cooper (“American Sniper”), and Michael Pena (“The Martian”), but most of this movie feels just slightly off.
A large portion of the problem with this film is that Eastwood wants us to care too much for this character, and he’s honestly not that likeable. Earl Stone is a bit of a loner; he’s distant from his ex-wife and kids, to the point where he misses his daughter’s wedding. At the beginning of the film, Stone seems to care more about his horticultural awards than he does about living, breathing people. As Stone gets roped into drug running, he starts to give back to his family and the people around him, while sort of just turning a blind eye to the crime he’s actually committing. Stone just doesn’t think about the hundreds of lives he is helping to ruin by flooding drugs into a community, and Eastwood doesn’t want us to think about it either. The fact that Stone is using his share of the profits as a way to bridge the gap between him and his family is one of the main plot points of the film, and I found myself rejecting those themes. For a movie that is about drug running, themes of reconnecting with your family felt sort of tawdry and out of place. I even felt like Eastwood had planted the seeds for some more interesting political themes by showing the foreclosure on his house, but he never let those seeds grow.
This film starts off pretty rough. Some of the acting in the first few scenes, particularly by Dianne Wiest (“Parenthood”) was really shaky. I haven’t seen Wiest in much, but I was honestly shocked when I clicked on her IMDb page and saw she won two Oscars (for “Bullets Over Broadway” and “Hannah and Her Sisters”). She was by far the most awkward part of the first few scenes. Also, in one of those first scenes, the focus was slightly soft and I could see a soft box reflected in Wiest’s glasses. During those first few moments I honestly thought I was in for a much rougher ride than this movie provides (after twenty minutes, I was expecting this to be a two star film), but thankfully, after we get away from the family drama of the first scenes and into the drug running, the movie takes a turn for the better.
When Stone gets involved with running, the movie starts to ramp up, but I must say that this movie fails to really instill any kind of tension in the viewer. Stone seems to take everything in stride, so I never really felt like Stone or his family members were in any kind of danger (even when there was danger present). Stone’s lackadaisical attitude gave me no reason to worry (“He seems fine, so why should I care?”), and that lack of tension was a determent to the movie. I was never bored, but I never really was invested either. “I sat watching this movie without emotion”; that’s not the sort of quote that winds up splashed across a poster.
As for Eastwood himself, I thought he did a fine job. It’s amazing to me that, even at his age, he’s able to star in this movie and direct two in a year (the other being “15:17 to Paris”). While I won’t say this role touches the brilliance of Eastwood’s part in “Gran Torino,” he was pretty decent in this film. He still has enough screen presence that I’m interested to see what comes next. Bradley Cooper and Michael Pena were probably the best parts of this film other than Eastwood himself. They play DEA partners in the film, and their witty back and forth banter livened up some of the slower bits of the movie. Honestly, if it weren’t for them this movie probably would’ve wound up with a two star rating from me.
There’s enough good in this movie that I wont say anything to deter anyone from watching it. Simultaneously, I wont go out of my way to ever recommend this to someone. While Eastwood isn’t making movies at the level of brilliance he attained during the 2000s (“Mystic River”, “Million Dollar Baby”, and “Letters from Iwo Jima” are all wonderful, and “The Changeling” was pretty decent too), most of his latest films are at least watchable, and that’s better than we can say for some.
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