Directors: Angus Sampson, Tony Mahony
MPAA Rating: NR
[This is a repost of our review from SXSW 2014. The Mule is playing on VOD platforms Friday.]
In theory, a story about a man who is trying not to poop for a week doesn’t sound like enough material for a feature length film. Fortunately, Angus Sampson’s The Mule proves that theory wrong by presenting a funny and incredibly gripping crime story. Sampson and co-writer Leigh Whannell (who also star in this film), have been firmly planted within the horror genre, however this release proves they can easily transition to any other type of film with ease.
Loosely based on a true story, The Mule follows the life of Ray Jenkins (Angus Sampson), a lovable dullard who gets coerced into swallowing a kilo of heroine and smuggling it back into Australia from Thailand in the early ‘80s. Sadly, Ray gets caught at customs and arrested by the police who must wait for Ray to use the bathroom and pass the drugs before they can prosecute. Now Ray must wait for seven days until the police are forced to release him to use the toilet.
The Mule presents itself as an odd dark comedy, set against the backdrop of the historic America’s Cup yacht race in 1983. The events of the film parallel Ray’s journey in trying to outwit and outlast the police, despite serious opposition. To make matters worse, Ray must contend with the men who are waiting to retrieve their drugs as well.
Sampson gives a fantastic performance as Ray, a big teddy bear whose love for his mom gets him involved in this nasty drug smuggling business. Despite acting alongside some really great talents like Hugo Weaving, Sampson proves his abilities as both a director and an actor in providing some stellar work.
Leigh Whannell, who seems to be on fire lately with another writing and co-starring role in the upcoming horror-comedy Cooties, is fantastic as well. His character of Gavin starts off as a slightly shady sleaze ball, but like most of Whannell’s roles, it’s just too hard not to like him. Gavin is Ray’s best friend and is the one who coaxes him into the job in the first place.
Although the darkly comedic aspects of the film reign supreme, there’s a surprisingly satisfying crime drama here as well, which proves to be both suspenseful and disgusting all at the same time. I expected a bevy of shit jokes, and while there is a decent amount, they’re used sparingly and in a very effective manner. Basically, it’s as high brow as a shit joke can be.
The Mule is a perfect example of how to successfully create a fun crime movie. It’s wonderfully shot, hilariously funny, and contains way more substance than one would imagine. It’s unique and although I love Whannell and Sampson’s horror efforts, it’s nice to see them breaking off and dominating other genres. The Mule is fantastic and is an absolute must-see.