Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Drug mule's poo strike stymies bad cops

  • 11 December 2014

The Mule (MA). Directors: Tony Mahony, Angus Sampson. Starring: Angus Sampson, Hugo Weaving, Leigh Whannell, Ewen Leslie. 103 minutes

The 'gross-out movie' has been a part of the Hollywood vernacular at least since 1978, when National Lampoon's Animal House proved that the dubious comedic value of exaggerated bodily functions could be a bona fide money-spinner. Fast forward a few decades and we've seen Porky's pave the way for American Pie, and the Farrelly Brothers and Judd Apatow turn the gross-out into an art form.

But when is a poo joke not just a poo joke? The Farrellys and Apatow have made films that are heartfelt and humane, despite their occasional scatological preoccupations. Now a band of roguish Australian filmmakers, too, have turned the art of the gross-out to a deeper purpose than mere cheap laughs. Their suspense-filled and utterly gross black comedy The Mule is one of the best Australian films of the year.

Co-writer-director Sampson stars as impressionable country footy dork Ray Jenkins. During an end-of-season trip to Bangkok he is badgered by teammate Gavin (Whannell) — who's working for sinister club patron Pat (Noble) — into turning drug mule. He ingests an uncomfortable number of heroin-filled balloons for transport back to Australia, but is subsequently busted at Melbourne Airport.

Ray is a consummate clubman, and is not going to surrender his cargo easily. He pleads innocence, but the law allows him to be detained for up to seven days, or until he defecates. So he is placed in custody in a seedy hotel room, where one seriously nasty cop (Weaving) and his mild-mannered partner (Leslie) employ both reason and violence in their efforts to persuade him to open up.

The presence of Whannell — the man behind the notoriously graphic Saw films — not just as an actor but as co-screenwriter might give you a hint as to the excesses at play as this scenario unfolds. But most of The Mule's excesses are contextual, and deeply rooted in character. Ray's pained farts and gut-gurgles reinforce the physical agony inherent in his ordeal, painted equally effectively on his pasty, sweaty visage.

Likewise the film's destined-for-notoriety shit-eating scene is not merely about shock, it's character building, literally — Ray may be an underdog, but he's no pushover. The Mule makes no apologies for trying to disgust its audience, but it is well enough written and performed that the greatest level of disgust is evoked not by scatology,