Clint Eastwood’s latest film, “The Mule,” marks his first time in front of cameras since 2012’s “Trouble with the Curve” and his first time directing himself since the remarkably successful “Gran Torino,” which was originally released in cinemas in 2008.
“The Mule” is a surprising venture from Eastwood, whose most recent pictures have focused on highlighting true stories with patriotic and heroic themes.
“The Mule” is a far more complex and risky project.
It was inspired by the true story of Leo Sharp (pictured above right), a World War II veteran who was helping to run drugs for the cartel well into his 80s.
Under the codename Tata (grandfather), Sharp became one of the Sinaloa cartel’s most prolific drug couriers over the course of a decade.
He was often moving over 200 kilos of drugs across the country.
World War II veteran, great-grandfather, no criminal record — Sharp was one of the last people you’d expect to be sneaking drugs from one place to another. And that’s likely why he avoided detection for so many years.
The Drug Enforcement Administration had been investigating cartel activity around the city of Detroit for months in 2011; and its investigation eventually led the agency to Tata, the most prolific drug courier they had ever come across.
When Sharp made his way to Detroit, police surveilled him and eventually pulled him over, using state police to make the stop appear to be a normal traffic violation to Sharp.
A police dog red-flagged Sharp’s truck — and five duffel bags were found with a total of 104 kilos of cocaine inside.
In another life, Sharp had been a hybridizer, a man known coast-to-coast by flower enthusiasts for his colorful and vibrant day lilies. Some theorize he turned to drug running because the rise of the internet brought an end to his ability to make money as a florist.
Police later theorized he used speaking engagements about growing day-lilies as excuses to move drugs around the country, even to make pit stops in Mexico.
It’s unclear how exactly Sharp began working for the cartel, but it’s believed he was introduced to the illegal work by Mexican farmhands who had been working for him.
During his trial, Sharp’s lawyer argued the old man suffered from dementia and was taken advantage of by others for years.
Sharp did not cooperate much with authorities, but his arrest led them to a handler — and that then led to a handful of busts of other drug-runners and stash locations.
Though he was facing a maximum of 20 years behind bars, Sharp wound up getting sentenced to only three.
“I’m really heartbroken I did what I did,” he said at his sentencing hearing. “But it’s done.”
Sharp reportedly offered a deal in court. He said he would pay off his $500,000 fine to the United States government by growing papayas in Hawaii if he could stay out of jail. “It’s so sweet and delicious,” he said of the papayas.
Sharp was released in 2015 after serving only a year in prison due to deteriorating health. He passed away the following year at the age of 92.
Eastwood, now 88, has taken on Sharp’s story with a script from Nick Schenk (“Gran Torino”). It’s unclear how much of the story will remain faithful to Sharp’s journey — Eastwood’s character’s name is Earl Stone, for instance.
What is clear, though, is that Eastwood is an unstoppable artistic force at this point. He’s taking on stories to tell that men half his age would normally do and he’s working at a pace that puts the rest of Hollywood to shame.
Sharp’s story has plenty of storytelling potential for Eastwood — and all of us can see what the legendary director and actor did with it when “The Mule” hits theaters this Friday (December 14).
For now, check out a recent interview with Clint Eastwood below: