Who can use a ninety-year-old man with a perfectly clean driving record? A drug cartel, that's who. They realise that Earl is practically invisible to the DEA – as his casual encounters with the law soon demonstrate.
We come to like Earl – even though he has clearly been a neglectful father and husband – and ironically, it is his late-found wealth that enables him to reach out to his family and his community.
For the greater part of the film, there is very little focus on the ruthlessness of the cartel and virtually none on the effects of the cargo that Earl delivers.
Mostly, it is about Earl and how he uses his wealth to create a better community and to heal broken relationships.
Eastwood gives the performance of a lifetime – he is on screen for most of the movie and that is its strength. He brings what could have been a formulaic movie to life.
Darkness creeps in about two-thirds of the way through the movie, as new leadership puts the hard word on Earl, and he chooses to go to the bedside of his dying former wife rather than meet a delivery deadline.
Earl meets up with the law officer (unaware that Earl is the mule he is pursuing) and, in one of the key scenes of the movie, they have a warm and genial conversation, with Earl giving some appreciated advice.
Will Earl get caught? Will the cartel (who have a very casual regard for human life) execute him as punishment for his not following instructions? Will Earl finally get to a family Thanksgiving as a welcome guest?
The strength of the movie is that we care about what is going to happen to Earl and his family.
For the most part, this is an optimistic, warm, humorous, whimsical movie and the relationship between Earl and his ex-wife, particularly in the scene where he staying by her bedside as she is dying, is beautifully and sensitively portrayed.