The Mule

See co-stars Hugo Weaving and Angus Sampson for a special preview screening and a Q&A session.
Tom Clift
Published on November 18, 2014


Tony Mahony's The Mule is a film about a universal human experience. Its message of determination is one that anyone can relate to, regardless of their gender, their colour or their creed. In some ways, its protagonist Ray Jenkins epitomises the common man. He's not a superhero or a crime fighter, or even particularly smart. He just really, really needs to use the toilet.

Such is the conceit of this 80s-set Australian crime comedy, one that gives new meaning to the words 'stomach churning'. Angus Sampson plays Mahony's eponymous drug mule, a dim-witted TV repairman detained by airport customs with a kilogram of heroin nestled snugly in his guts. It's a huge bust for the authorities, except for the fact that the only physical evidence remains trapped inside their suspect. Legally prohibited from x-raying his stomach without his consent, the only other option is to keep Ray in custody, and hope he goes to the bathroom before the seven-day holding period expires.

So begins the longest week in Ray's pathetically misspent life. Strong-armed into drug-trafficking by a teammate on his local footy team (Leigh Whannell), Ray's a far cry from a criminal mastermind, and woefully ill-equipped for the pressures of police interrogation. Sampson — who co-wrote the screenplay with Whannell and Jaime Browne — does a good job of making his characters seem sympathetic, even if it's mostly in a sad, flop-sweaty kind of way.

Ewen Leslie and Hugo Weaving, meanwhile, play the pair of federal police officers who are tasked with monitoring Ray's case. Both performances are excellent, although it's Weaving who's particularly funny as the moustachioed Detective Croft, a bullying old-school copper who grows more and more frustrated with every scene. The sheer absurdity of the situation lends the film an air of satire; there's something deliciously twisted about watching cops, crims, judges and lawyers all awaiting the outcome of a single, stubborn shit.

Mahony and the trio of screenwriters also turn their lens on some of the worst and/or most cringeworthy elements of 'true blue' Australian culture. Even as Ray fights to keep his buttocks clenched, the country sits glued to the television, watching the last days of the 1983 America's Cup yacht race. The rampant nationalism is enough to make you squirm — as is the old Holden TV jingle that blares merrily across the airwaves. Football, hot pies, kangaroos and Holden cars? What a load of crap.

The Mule will screen in Sydney on Wednesday, November 19 with Hugo Weaving and Angus Sampson in attendance for a one-off Q&A session at Dendy Newtown. This film releases digitally on Friday, November 21.


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