the-mule-movieLaws are laws (and the law is paramount in the new Australian black comedy crime flick, The Mule), but unwritten rules can be nearly as important. The applicable unwritten rule here is that one-note genre films should not run longer than 85 or 90 minutes. The Mule clocks in at 103 minutes, and that extra time, devoted almost exclusively to waiting for the main character to have a bowel movement, constipates the narrative. Its excessive length, the most common fault in modern cinema, is the only serious shortcoming in an uncomfortably original film from Down Under that dwells on activities down under.

Ray Jenkins (Angus Sampson) is the good-natured, soft-headed Clubman of the Year for his local rugby team, a honor that includes the prize of a trip to Bangkok, provided in part by local businessman, Pat Shepherd (John Noble). The fine print of that arrangement is the expectation that the Clubman will make a side trip to a special location in the Thai capital and dine on a local delicacy: condoms filled with heroin. After an initial reluctance to participate, Ray is persuaded to join in on the fun through an entirely predictable pressure point. Equally predictable, especially to Ray, is that he will somehow screw it up. Sure enough, he panics at Customs on his return to Australia and winds up in police custody.

This is Australia 1983. We know that because every single tv in the entire nation is tuned into the landmark America’s Cup, in which Australia ended the longest winning streak since the Roman Empire’s string of victories at the beginning of the modern era by defeating the United States in yacht racing. The law of the land at the time with regard to suspected smuggling cases was, “This too shall pass.” An individual could be held for observation for seven days or until two bowel movements. And there you have it – Roy is taken to a motel room, where he spends the better part of the remainder of the film writhing on the bed in cramped agony, avoiding voiding.

What elevates this movie and makes it worth a watch are Noble, best know as Walter on Fringe, as the bad guy, and Hugo Weaving, from The Lord of the Rings and Matrix trilogies, as a slightly less bad guy, a hardass detective named Croft. Both are in fine form, with Weaving particularly enjoying himself. The one great tragedy in The Mule is that Noble and Weaving never share the screen for even a single scene The majority of the cast is equally solid, although Sampson overplays the main character’s dimness at the film’s start, a characteristic undercut by some swift moves he pulls near the end. Another Fringe alum, Georgina Haig, is miscast as Ray’s attorney. Haig is simply too 2014-beautiful to be convincing as an attractive 1983 lawyer.

Warning: no movie rating system has yet been developed to prepare viewers for The Mule. “Stomach turning” does not even begin to describe the reaction to what Ray is forced to do at one point. And while the scene is graphic, it is not gratuitous because it goes directly to the central question of the movie: what is an individual capable of doing to stay out of jail? You may not be ready for the answer.

Two and a half stars.

  1. Kate M says:

    the film runs for 97mins. As per it’s press kit!

  2. Kats says:

    loved it !!!

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