The Mule, directed by Tony Mahoney and Angus Sampson, is an entertaining Australian crime-drama. However, at times, it’s quite hard to stomach.
Angus Sampson stars as Ray Jenkins, a lowly repairman who is supressed in all parts of his life. His boss won’t allow him a lunch break at work and his mother (Noni Hazlehurst) still smothers him like a child at home. After winning Clubman of the Year, and consequently a trip to Thailand, Ray is approached with a life-changing request. Local club owner and drug boss Pat Shepherd (John Noble) has orchestrated a plan to bring back a kilogram of heroin from Bangkok and needs Ray to be his mule. Middleman Gavin, played by Leigh Whannell, entices Ray by introducing him to a social life and the joy of making his own decisions. Of course, it isn’t long before Ray makes a very, very, very poor one.
Things start going downhill for Ray, as they seem destined to, when he’s rightfully suspected of holding narcotics in his stomach upon his return to Melbourne. He winds up detained in a hotel room for seven days, as bad cop (Hugo Weaving) and good cop (Ewen Leslie) breathe down his neck, waiting for him to ‘pass’ the goods. The film can get a little squeamish here, yet it’s hard to look away.
Angus Sampson, along with Jaime Browne and Leigh Whannell, developed the screenplay. The narrative is solid, however it relies too heavily on the events themselves to engage audiences. Many of the characters feel oddly clichéd, and the plot is not explored with any great depth. The fact that the film is based on true events provide the story with a sense of authenticity and intrigue, but it could have been told with far more insight.
There are steady performances from the entire cast, yet none are utterly compelling. This is disappointing given the high calibre we’ve come to expect from Australian greats like Hugo Weaving. Angus Sampson gives a likeable performance in the leading role. He is a ‘mule’ in every sense of the word; couriering drugs over international waters, but also as naive and dim witted as one would expect. We manage to glean a lot about his character from the very little he says.
Despite many outstanding films emerging from the Australian film industry, audiences still seem to have a strong aversion to the country’s national cinema. The Mule may not be the film to rectify this. Australian characters on screen tend to appear as caricatures; caricatures that audiences don’t seem to enjoy watching. The Mule doesn’t really dodge this bullet. In fact, many viewers may be turned off by the first twenty minutes, in which the sense of Australianness is conveyed as it might be in a beer advertisement. The film gets away with this, to a certain extent, given that the setting is 1983. However, it doesn’t quite seem to find a natural sense of Australia.
Despite its shaky start, The Mule manages to build into an engaging and well-composed story. The film is well paced and the intensity of the narrative ebbs and flows so that we are drawn in at all the right moments. The Mule can be, at times, a little too slow, but it ultimately manages to pick itself up. If you’re not too put off by the start, you will eventually be drawn into the film’s compelling narrative. The Mule is a well made and entertaining Australian film, which hopefully isn’t completely lost amidst the abundance of Hollywood features hitting our screens.
THE REEL SCORE: 6/10