Review: ‘The Mule’ Has One Thing On Its Mind

By November 19, 2014

Here’s one for the “truth is stranger than fiction” files:

A sad-sack loser stupidly decides to transport a lot of heroin (in his stomach) from Bangkok to Australia, only he gets caught at the airport and held as a suspect. Law of the land dictates that Ray Jenkins (Angus Sampson) can only be held for seven days, so that’s good news, right? The bad news should be obvious: have you ever tried to “hold it in” for seven days? And that’s just normal food. One can only assume that 20 condoms filled with heroin would be in an even bigger rush to leave one’s belly.

Yes: that’s what The Mule is about, and it’s a fascinating little story indeed.

Set in early ’80s Australia and, yes, based on actual events, The Mule is not so much about a naive young man who does a stupid thing and learns a tough lesson; it’s more about a naive young man who has to suffer through a week of virtual hell in order to maintain a small sense of honor, self-respect, and (obviously) the safety of his family. Let’s not forget that someone paid a lot of money for the heroin that’s floating around inside Mr. Jenkins’ gut.

The Mule 2

So while The Mule is certainly not a horror film or a traditional suspense thriller, it does wring a lot of worthwhile tension out of one unsavory question: how long can Ray go without taking a dump?

Clearly well aware that this question is amusing, but hardly enough to fill an entire movie, directors Tony Mahony and Angus Sampson (and screenwriters Leigh Whannell and Jaime Browne) have filled The Mule with just enough plot, humor, and personality to support a central story that, frankly, is pretty gross. Plot-wise: Ray is sort of a dopey mama’s boy who has unwittingly infuriated a local thug (Whannell) and an effortlessly ominous crime boss (John Noble), plus he also has to contend with a devious police detective (Hugo Weaving) and a distractingly lovely lawyer (Georgina Haig) AND the kilogram of hard drugs that desperately wants to pass through his various colons and intestines already. And we haven’t even discussed Ray’s mom (Noni Hazlehurst) yet. She’s a handful.

To its credit, The Mule is a well-conceived period-piece crime procedural, a dry and sometimes rough comedy about a really stupid event, and even a touching little character piece when all is said and done — but it really shines as a “ticking clock” piece of gastrointestinal suspense cinema. The supporting cast is superb, the script is quick, and Mr. Sampson runs through a truly impressive array of strong moments in his performance of Ray. But you’ll really want to see how it all comes out in the end. (Groan.)

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Scott Weinberg
Writer. Movie critic. Producer. Semi-actor. Wise-ass. Film advocate. Horror geek. Cat fan. Twitter junkie. Follow me at @scotteweinberg.