(On Cable TV, August 2019) There’s something in the air about older movie stars not quite wanting to face down retirement. So, we get The Old Man and the Gun, and The Mule, about older men turning to crime. The similarities are uncanny, with both films (inspired by true stories) showing legendary movie stars playing old guys using their charm to get away with things that old people really shouldn’t be doing, and featuring the criminals unknowingly interacting with their police pursuers. But while Robert Redford may push it to charmingly flirt with bank tellers in The Old Man and the Gun, Eastwood here can’t help but cast himself cavorting with women young enough to be his granddaughters (usually two of them at once). Ah well—what’s the use of being a Hollywood celebrity director if you can’t engineer yourself a threesome? Even though The Mule follows the usual formula, it does invite scrutiny: Eastwood, notoriously conservative, tries to have it both ways by showing how one can personally benefit from crime until it becomes dangerous, while also tut-tutting younger generations wasting their lives in a cycle of crime and violence. (This is called “hypocrisy,” and it is indeed a central feature of modern American conservatism.) There are a few sops here to Eastwood’s old-guy crankiness, from “There’s something wrong with you, kids” to motorcyclists who won’t take his advice and so on. It does occur to me that we’re in sore need for a further subcategorization of what it means to be “old”—Sixty may be the new fifty, but when you have Eastwood pushing ninety, that’s an entirely different ball game. Every film of his may be the last, and The Mule at least has the distinction of being quite a bit better (and enjoyable) than the much maligned The 3:17 p.m. to Paris. [April 2022: Peeking from the future, I also note a similarity between The Mule and Cry Macho, which will probably keep going for as long as Eastwood casts himself in tough-guy roles.] Even despite the issues and flaws and contrivances, I did still like The Mule—it’s a fun crime caper that features an unusual character, and I have a hunch that despite my having some issues with Eastwood-the-man, I’m going to miss him when he’s gone. But I have a feeling he’s going to die with his boots on, on a movie set.