The Mule

A clear prestige contender for this year’s Oscars, “The Mule” finds Clint Eastwood on his first big screen foray since “Trouble With the Curve” (2012). 

A fitting theme for an actor with a career as illustrious as Eastwood’s, perhaps, might be the Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini,” Opus 43, written in 1934. The second theme is played monophonically (a single note at a time, rather than with harmonies) on piano, reprised at three points throughout the trailer. 

The trailer has Eastwood on monologue discussing how he was a “terrible father and terrible husband.” The first playing of the theme occurs around 0:42, meandering and pausing to allow for Eastwood’s monologue to come through, ending by 1:05. It appears again around 1:41, and at 1:51 we then hear a massive buzzing array of noise, as if Eastwood’s past sins and foibles have finally all come home to roost all at once. This soundscape is cut off at 2:08 as Eastwood’s exasperated sigh of contrition finally admits his ultimate culpability: “I’m sorry for what I’ve done.”

What’s probably most striking about this choice of musical theme is how much it contrasts with the themes expressed in “The Mule.” Being a drug mule is nothing if not to harbour a whole and complicit sense of guilt; this piano theme, by contrast, is innocent – almost infantile – in the simplicity of its melodic contour, comprising half a scale and mostly whole-bar and quarter notes in a major mode that wouldn’t feel out of place if used as a lullaby for a newborn. Instead, it is used to highlight just how dire and end-of-the-rope Eastwood’s situation is.

The effectiveness of this musical choice lies in the starkness of its delivery, allowing Eastwood’s unadulterated gruff voice to take its self-directed and -produced centre stage. The piano, awash in reverb and unfocused in its recording, amply reflects the man depicted in this trailer – full of regret and remorse, these feeling held back over time and only more sharply honed as a result.

– Curtis Perry