The Mule
3/5   aka: The Smuggler
dir Tony Mahony, Angus Sampson
prd Angus Sampson, Jane Liscombe
scr Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Jaime Browne
with Angus Sampson, Leigh Whannell, Hugo Weaving, Ewen Leslie, John Noble, Noni Hazlehurst, Geoff Morrell, Georgina Haig, Richard Davies, Ilya Altman, Chris Pang, Alex Menglet
release US 21.Nov.14, UK 22.Feb.16
14/Australia 1h43
The Mule
Getting the finger: Sampson and the customs officers

whannell weaving leslie
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Mule A better title for this Australian black comedy would be Waiting to Excrete. Based on real events, this is a riotously rude movie that wins over the audience by presenting its antihero as a tenacious guy determined not to be the loser for once. And the sharks circling around him feel like characters from the Coens' Fargo.

In 1983 Melbourne, Ray (Sampson) is surprised to win the annual award in his football club, presented by childhood friend Gavin (Whannell), the team captain. Suddenly, Ray's part of the cool crowd. But Gavin has a plan, convincing Ray to travel to Bangkok and smuggle pods of heroin home in his stomach. At the airport, Ray's panic alerts the cops (Weaving and Leslie), who detain him in a hotel for a week to wait for his bowel to move. But neither Gavin's mob boss Pat (Noble) nor Ray's mum (Hazlehurst) is quite so patient.

Only Australian filmmakers would attempt to tell a story like this, and they pack each scene with dryly insinuating dialog that includes long, knowing pauses. Everyone is trying to manipulate each other, thinking they know exactly what they're doing, but each underestimates the appalling people around them. So amid the poo and fart jokes, there's murder in the air. The only character who seems able to keep his head is Ray.

Ray may not be very sympathetic, but Sampson is a hapless charmer, wryly depicting his interaction with each of the goons around him. Ray's offbeat integrity and steeliness holds the film together, even when the plot drags on, dropping story-threads at random and failing to develop the intriguing women played by Hazlehurst and Haig (as Ray's unusually savvy public defender). The male costars have a lot more fun, full of ignorant bluster that gets all of them in a lot of trouble.

Realistically sweaty and trashy, the film's oddly slow pace is livened up by the luridly colourful performances. Although it gets pretty nasty as it goes along, and there's one vile set piece goes far beyond the pale. This is definitely not a movie to watch before going for dinner. And while the violence feels excessively gleeful, the story is cruelly funny enough to make us want to know if anyone will still be alive at the end.

cert 18 themes, language, violence 12.Nov.14

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© 2014 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall