The Mule (London Film Festival 2014) Review
Melbourne, 1983. On holiday in Thailand, Ray (Angus Sampson) is persuaded to smuggle heroin into Australia, by swallowing some twenty drug-filled condoms. Arrested at the airport, he is held in custody in a hotel room by police officers Croft (Hugo Weaving) and Paris (Ewen Leslie). They are allowed to hold Ray for seven days without charge, and so he can be charged Ray would have to produce the evidence...in the toilet. But for those seven days, Ray is determined not to do that...
The Mule is based on true events. Leigh Whannell's name on the script (along with Sampson's and Jaime Browne's) as well as his presence in a featured role would lead you to expect a horror film, rather like Saw, which he cowrote. The Mule is certainly within hailing distance of that genre, at least the gross-out end of it, though Tony Mahony and Sampson (billed as director and co-director respectively) and a strong cast play it for very black comedy. That said, the (literal) toilet humour may be too much for some, and the particularly squeamish should beware a particular scene two thirds of the way through a slightly overlong hour and three quarters.
Sampson plays Ray as a solid, even stolid, stoic type, not as dumb as he seems at first. The characters around him are played rather broadly, from top-billed Weaving's strong-arm cop, ready to bend or break rules to get results, and Ewen Leslie's shadier cop, who turns out to have motives of his own. In a very blokey environment, the two principal female characters (Noni Hazlehurst as Ray's Mum and Georgina Haig as his lawyer) do hold their own.
While Croft and Paris are waiting in the hotel room for Ray's number twos, a TV set is showing the America's Cup yacht races, a famous Australian victory in the year this film is set. This is one of more than a few hints that The Mule is intended as a story of the little guy getting one over on the big guys, but for that to be the case Ray would have to be a more sympathetic character than he is or, I suspect, intended to be. He may be smarter than he seems, but he's still a smuggler of class A drugs, and that leaves a taste in the mouth somewhat different to the honey used to make swallowing drug-filled condoms easier.
The Mule is playing the London Film Festival 2014 as part of the Laugh strand. UK release is TBC..