“Wrap your laughin’ gear ‘round this.”
Every year, Australia produces a dozen or so movies. And every year, pretty much all of them get ignored. As 2014 was drawing to a close, I don’t know if I could have named a single one released that year. Then, out of nowhere, came The Mule. An Aussie movie with a marketing budget isn’t something you see too often, so it immediately stood out as something I should probably check out. Now that I have, I’m not sure why The Mule was the token attention grabbing Australian made movie of 2014.
It’s the mid 80s and a local Melbourne football club is celebrating the end of a dismal season. Ray (Angus Sampson) is awarded Club Man of the Year and his team mates get ready for their end of season trip to Bangkok. After giving Ray a lift home, his childhood friend Gavin (Leigh Whannell) makes him a proposition, bring back half a kilo of heroin from Thailand in exchange for $8,000. At first he declines, but when a hired goon arrives at his house and threatens his mother over gambling debts owed by his step father, Ray decides to take the job and smuggle in the drugs.
The posters and trailer make this pretty clear, so it’s no spoiler to say that his muling doesn’t go so well, and on arrival back in Australia with a belly full of Sweet Lady H, Ray is immediately detained. Enter cops Tom Croft (Hugo Weaving) and Les Paris (Ewen Lesley). With Ray sequestered, they wait for nature to take its course and the drugs to be expelled. While he’s stuck in a cheap hotel room, the connections between Gavin, Ray’s step dad, the local crime boss and anyone else who passes through the story get more and more murky.
I’m not sure what kind of movie The Mule is trying to be. The poster made me think I was in for a wacky comedy, but the movie isn’t funny. Not that I think it’s trying to be. But at the same time, it’s not going for gritty realism either. It just sort of tells its story without ever indulging in any real genre or mood.
It does suffer from that very common mistake of so many Australian movies that have come before though, it tries a little too hard to be Aussie. You can almost see the screen writers crossing lines off a list as they fill their script with classic “Aussie” phrases. Following up a fart with, “A bit more chock and that would’ve started”. Handing someone breakfast and telling them to, “Wrap your laughin’ gear ‘round this”. Setting the story in the 80s for no other reason (that I can see) than to fill the screen with 80s cars and outfits, because that’s funny, I guess.
All of that sounds like I’m really crapping on The Mule, but the truth is, it’s OK. The acting is OK, the story is OK, the technical film making is OK. I just wish it had a little more personality, tried a little harder to have a point of view and actually attempted some kind of coherent feel. Instead, it just efficiently goes through its story, plot point by plot point, and hopes to stumble across some sort of personality once it gets to the end.