Mullet Review

A mullet is a fish with a sweet taste that no-one likes very much and isn’t much use – best to throw it back in the water. “Mullet” is also the nickname of Eddie Maloney (Ben Mendelsohn), who has spent a few years in the city but comes home unexpectedly to the sleepy fishing village of Coollawarra. But not everyone is pleased to see him. They include his ex-girlfriend Tully (Susie Porter), now married to his brother Peter (Andrew S. Gilbert)…

Made between the much brasher and noisier Idiot Box and Dirty Deeds, Mullet is a change of pace for writer-director David Caesar. Like many filmmakers, this is the small, personal project taken on between two more obviously commercial ones. The result is his best film, a funny, often charming story of an outsider coming home and realising that fantasy ties are the strongest ones. Eddie is played with enough edge by Ben Mendelsohn to keep sentimentality at bay, and he doesn’t always do the right thing, but by the end there’s hope for the future. The supporting cast is very strong too, with Susie Porter a particular standout as a woman torn between the man she once loved and the man she now does love. Peta Brady is notable as Eddie’s very plain-spoken sister Robbie, and Tony Barry and Kris McQuade do a fine job as Eddie’s parents. Caesar’s script derives much of its rhythm and flavour from Australian vernacular: salty, frequently profane and often very funny. Mullet is basically a character-led story, but thanks to Caesar’s inventive direction, often making good use of the Scope format, the pace is sure and the film doesn’t outstay its welcome. Mullet is quite simply a treat. It’s Caesar’s best film and typically it’s the one which has yet to see a release of any kind in the UK, on large screen or small, not even as a barebones full-frame transfer on a budget label.

Mullet is an all-regions DVD produced by Madman Entertainment (who distribute their DVDs via The AV Channel). Before on this site, I’ve praised the standards of Madman/AV discs, and I’ll do so again here, with one or two reservations. The film is presented in its correct ratio of 2.35:1, and this is one of the earlier Madman anamorphic transfers. (Previous discs I’ve reviewed have had non-anamorphic, though still excellent, transfers.) Mullet was filmed almost entirely in natural or source light, giving it a non-slick, slightly raw look that appealed to me, but may not to some people. Quite a few of the interior scenes have a greenish cast, due to the use of fluorescent light.

The soundtrack is in Dolby Digital 5.1, though as this is very much a dialogue-led film it isn’t one to show off your set-up with. The surrounds are generally confined to Paul Healy’s score. At 45 minutes there’s a dream sequence which features a train doing a circuit of your speakers and some notable subwoofer use, but otherwise this is a suitably restrained soundtrack.

There are fifteen chapter stops. No subtitles of any kind are provided, which was certainly common to a lot of Madman DVDs and is this disc’s major shortcoming.
On the other hand, the extras are extensive and comprehensive, and well organised. First off is a commentary featuring David Caesar and producer Vincent Sheehan. This is a fairly lively chat, covering most bases in the film, from conception to production on location.

The remaining extras are divided into several sections, with a “play all” option. The first section is “Pre-Production”. This is subdivided into two. Firstly there’s a comparison between the storyboards and the finished feature for five scenes, using multiple angles and an introduction and optional commentary by Caesar. (All the introductions appear in a little inset video box to the left of the screen. “Production Design” features five scenes with an optional commentary and introduction by designer Elizabeth Moore.

The second section is “Production”. Vincent Sheehan introduces “On Location”, and provides commentary on seven short segments. “Original Music” features composer Paul Healy, who introduces this section and provides an optional commentary over five music cues. Likewise, “Cinematography”, features the DP Robert Humphreys, who in six sections discusses the look of the film and how he went about achieving it.

Next up, there are ten deleted scenes, introduced and with optional commentary by Caesar and editor Mark Perry. As usual with such things, it’s easy to see why these were removed. The picture quality isn’t up to that of the main feature, as you might expect. The last deleted scene (“Are You Old Enough?”) has no original audio, the song that was intended to play there having been removed due to licensing issues.

The next section is “Promotion”. “Soundtrack CD” is, as you might expect, a single page advertising the album, though it does contain a link to a video of a new recording of a “classic Australian rock song from the late Seventies”, in this case “I’m Still in Love With You” by Dragon, here covered by Shane Nicolson of Pretty Violent Stain. “Trailers” features Vincent Sheehan again with Andrew Mackie of Globe Films (the theatrical distributor). Mullet wasn’t an easy sell, being a character comedy with darker edges, and early attempts at the trailer promised something a little too sinister. We see five versions before the final one, plus a couple of teasers shown at Tropfest and a TV spot from SBS. Picture quality is often very rough, in some early cases being timecoded video, but it’s interesting to see how a publicity campaign develops. “Production Stills” is four pages with three thumbnails each; if you leave the DVD idle for long enough, it will default to this stills gallery. Finally in this section, “Quote Bank” is six pages of review praise from Australian media, print, TV and online.

“Cast” features short text biographies (lifted from a press kit, I’ve no doubt) of the qight principal castmembers I’ve listed in this review. David Caesar gets his own section: a five-page biography, which includes embedded links to his 1987 short film Living Room and a trailer for Idiot Box. Living Room gets its own section in the extras menu, and an introduction by Caesar. It runs 19:53 and is full-frame. Including early shorts from feature directors is one reason why Madman DVDs are as good as they are, though Living Room won't be to all tastes. It's a rather arty docu-essay on people and the places where they live, with no dialogue and just ambient music and some sound effects. It features a lot of close-ups (influenced by Richard Avedon, according to Caesar) of people staring into camera. Their comments on their homes appear as handwritten captions.

The final section on the menu is “Madman Propaganda”, that is, trailers for other Madman DVDs The Bank, Amores Perros and La Spagnola.

There are a number of Easter Eggs on this DVD. On the main menu, if you highlight the end of Eddie’s cigarette, you will access a screen of DVD production credits, which also play at the end of the film. Finally, there are four hidden extras, each being a recipe for cooking the fish of the title. On the Pre-Production submenu, click on the mullet for a recipe for Barbequed Mullet; on Production, for Caramelised Mullet; on Promotions, for Fried Mullet; and on Cast for Savoury Baked Mullet. I wonder when any of the celebrity cooks will branch out into DVD?

Mullet is an excellent film, edgy but warm, and highly recommended. Apart from the unfortunate lack of subtitles (a policy that I hope Madman will rethink in due course), it gets a superb presentation on disc.

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