HOLLYWOOD—Clint Eastwood, what can I say about this man. He is a phenomenal filmmaker in my eyes. I mean I loved and I mean loved “Million Dollar Baby,” it was the sleeper hit of 2004/2005, while his flick “American Sniper,” I thought was sensational. If there is one flick that holds a special torch in my heart its “Gran Torino,” man that script is sharp, original and just riveting. As a director, Eastwood knows how to make characters the audience should hate, lovable. He brings that magic yet again with “The Mule.”

Yes, you may have seen the TV spots for this flick that has been heavily advertised in recent weeks. The story follows Earl Stone (Eastwood), a Korean War veteran and horticulturist on the verge of losing it all. As a result, he becomes a runner for the Mexican cartel, or what the film coins a ‘mule’ to run cocaine through Illinois. Is it a slightly daunting role for Eastwood to take on?

At first, you tell yourself yes, but as the movie evolves you become so sutured into the backstory of this character, his family and his desire to be a better man that Eastwood completely vanishes into the character. He is estranged from his family; his daughter is holding a major grudge against her father for not being there for her, and his wife Mary, played by the phenomenal Dianne Wiest is on the verge of death. Things are pretty bad for Earl who is on the brink of losing his home to foreclosure, so he taps his feet in very dangerous waters, and as a result he becomes quite successful at his job.

He saves his home; he helps finance his estranged granddaughter’s wedding all while trying to stay under the radar as the DEA closes in on him. Is there a bit of star power in the movie? Yes, of course, and not just from Eastwood and Wiest, because Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne, Andy Garcia, Michael Pena and Taissa Farmiga all lead their talents to the drama. However, this is Eastwood’s movie.

He finds a way as a director to humanize characters that quite frankly the audience should hate. He is patient with the pacing of the narrative he delivers these tracking shots that can be ominous yet say so much about a scene and a character, without ever uttering a single word. What moved me so much about “The Mule” is the fact that the movie plays with the idea of morality and repenting for one’s sins. I’ve noticed this as a motif in quite a few of Eastwood’s past flicks including “Million Dollar Baby” and “Gran Torino.” Our protagonist is grappling with some dark demons and to free themselves from those demons before kicking the bucket or going off into oblivion that right those wrongs from the past. It’s a bit of a tale of redemption in the eyes of a guy who should be seen as an enemy of the state, but who the audience is endured to root for.

The script is written by Nick Schenk, the same guy responsible for pinning the script for “Gran Torino,” and I must say the same magic that Schenk and Eastwood captured in that drama is very prevalent here, to the point that I found “The Mule” even more entertaining if that is possible. I would be idiotic to argue that this is Eastwood’s finest work to date, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I loved this movie.

It was easily one of the best flicks I’ve seen in 2018, and Eastwood, while not the talk of the town of awards season right now, he should be a major contender in the Best Actor race, if not the Best Director race for his work in “The Mule.” I swear this is a guy who knows how to craft a movie that sneaks from out of the shadows and absolutely blows everyone’s mind.