Pinning the crime on the donkey.
From the start, The Mule intrigues. It surprises and shocks. It definitely makes an impact. It’s 1983, and Ray Jenkins (Angus Sampson) is naïve, passive, and working a dead end job in an electronics shop. Coerced by his friend Gavin (Leigh Whannell), Ray agrees to travel to Thailand with his football team for the end of season trip. The ulterior motive – they are to become drug mules for the football club president, Pat Shepherd (John Noble). On the way home, Ray’s nerves are noticed, and he is detained by the Australian Federal Police. Unable to search or perform an x-ray without Ray’s consent, the police simply decide to wait it out. They can detain Ray for seven days until he…passes the swallowed drugs. Ray decides he can wait as well…
The film is based on a true story, an article which writer Jamie Browne saw in a newspaper clipping from the 1980s, and is set against the backdrop of the Australia’s 1983 America’s Cup victory. The Mule is a sprawling tapestry of overly macho, misogynistic, cringingly “patriotic” culture and it uses that environment to full advantage. It’s gritty and dirty and drab – the way this film is shot sets the tone perfectly.
It’s also clever in the framing of its characters. We may feel a little sorry for Ray (who is not an inherently bad person) but he included, there are almost no likeable characters in this film. Everyone is out for his or her self. Hugo Weaving practically revels in playing the violent, old-fashioned cop, Tom Croft, who would rather beat a confession out of the suspect than wait around for a week. Ewen Leslie is fantastic as his counterpoint ‘good cop’ partner. John Noble is a perfect creep as the shady businessman (a ‘big fish in a small pond’ scenario, you could say). Sampson brings a great sense of dopiness to Ray – you can’t actually hate him, but you can’t think of him as anything other than an idiot.
The further in you get, the more about these characters are revealed, twists uncovered, and you realize everyone is despicable. Everyone is ugly. These men are not here for us to admire or to cheer for. We are here to judge them, and the film does a good job of giving us the distance to be able to do that. The few characters we do like are, refreshingly, the women – Ray’s legal aid lawyer, Jasmine Griffiths (Georgina Haig), and his mother, Judy (a brilliant turn from Noni Hazlehurst). Jasmine stands up and fights every slur and negative comment that is thrown at her, though through her own desire to win she turns a blind eye to Ray’s guilt. Judy, her husband a drinker and a gambler and her precious son detained, tries valiantly to hold her family together, but emotion sometimes gets the better of her.
The Mule is a darkly comedic thriller, but sometimes it doesn’t know exactly where it wants to place itself. I did laugh, but I was more disturbed, shocked, and in some places, disgusted (if you’re squeamish, be warned). It is brilliantly performed, and is bound to provoke a range of reactions. While the finer details of the plot are sometimes left a little muddled, its examination and portrayal of a highly masculine, concentrated pocket of suburbia will leave it lingering in your mind afterwards.
The Mule will be available to on digital on November 21st (iTunes, Google Play, Sony PlayStation, Microsoft Xbox and Dendy Direct). For more Reviews, click here. If you’re digging ReelGood, sign up to our mailing list for exclusive content, early reviews and chances to win big!