The new Australian film The Mule is an interesting piece of cinema in a lot of ways, one of which is that it’s just been released but you can’t actually see it in cinemas. It’s one of a growing number of local films released via platforms such as iTunes, where (in theory) it will find its (presumably) niche audience and have a longer lifespan. Good luck to it.
The film itself is set in 1983 and focuses on Ray Jenkins (Angus Sampson), a very ordinary guy who lives with his parents in a working class, outer suburb of Melbourne, works in a TV repair shop by day, and plays footy in the local team on weekends. Local nightclub owner Pat (John Noble), a mate of Ray’s Dad and Ray’s best friend Gavin (Leigh Whannell), and a supporter of the footy club, puts down the cash for an end-of-season team trip to Bangkok, except part of the deal is that Ray needs to smuggle in some heroin on the return trip.
Having never been overseas before and having never smuggled heroin before, Ray’s nervous but agrees to do it. After swallowing around a dozen condoms full of white powder he has an uncomfortable and nerve-wracking return flight, and by the time he gets to Tullamarine the stress gets too much, he panics going through customs and security stop him. As a suspected drugs smuggler he’s taken in to the custody of the Federal Police, who plan to keep him in an airport hotel room until he produces the heroin…except that Ray’s determined that his body will never produce the heroin.
As Ray spends day after agonising day fighting his body and hiding anything that does slip out from police officers Croft (Hugo Weaving) and Paris (Ewen Leslie), Pat and Gavin both try to get to Ray and the heroin, Pat sends his goons after Dad and Gavin, a left-wing police-hating legal aid lawyer tries to fight Ray’s cause, and the Americas Cup is captivating the nation. If you came in thinking this would be a hilarious gross-out comedy about a guy who’s trying not to shit himself, you’ll be disappointed. Much of the comedy in this film – and there are quite a few funny moments – come from the clash of social classes, tribes, ideologies and nations: lawyers vs corrupt police, criminals vs battlers, underdogs vs the establishment, the working classes vs the middle classes, left vs right, footy blokes vs everyone else, and Americans vs Australians.
The result is an intelligent drama/comedy, that gets the mix of drama and the comedy just right, has a very clever plot and some well-rendered characters. Unusual for an Australian film, that. Seeing The Mule may not be as easy as heading down to your local multiplex but as it’s one of the better Australian films for a while you should make the effort.