Drug mule's poo strike stymies bad cops

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, but by the truly excremental nature of some of its characters.

These 'inspired by true events' play out contemporaneously to the 1983 America's Cup, a fact that does more than place the story in history and foreshadow the pivotal role the room's television set — on which characters are frequently seen to be watching the race — will later play in the plot. By paralleling Ray's plight with the historic win of Alan Bond's Australia II The Mule both celebrates and satirises the great myth of the Aussie underdog.

Bond, of course, was destined to become a poster child for corporate corruption — a fact not lost on the filmmakers, who at one point have two characters debate his status as an Australian hero. Ray is cut from different cloth altogether. He is beset on all sides by systemic corruption, which makes his defiance of The Man — fuelled not by greed but by a kind of everyman nobility — seem truly heroic.

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is assistant editor of Eureka Street. The Mule is available on iTunes, and on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Topic tags: Tim Kroenert, The Mule, Angus Sampson, Hugo Weaving, Leigh Whannell, Ewen Leslie



submit a comment

Similar Articles

Aussie diggers' pen as mighty as their sword

  • Gillian Bouras
  • 17 December 2014

A soldier's life is usually one of bursts of brief action followed by extended periods of drudgery and boredom, and never was this more true than during this dreadful war of attrition that dragged on apparently interminably between 1914 and 1918. A book titled Aussie was published in 1920 as a bound collection of AIF soldiers’ own paper of the battlefield, wholly written, illustrated and printed in the field. 


Fighter who found community on the streets

  • Steve Sinn
  • 10 December 2014

Sue will always be for me flesh and blood, her trust I will forever cherish. Hers was a wretched life from the beginning to the end. But for some reason I feel impelled to lift her name out of the anonymity narrative that includes the vast numbers of people who have gone before us. 



Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up