Film review: The Mule - the seedy side of Australia

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 February, 2015, 10:48pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 February, 2015, 10:48pm

The Mule
Angus Sampson, Hugo Weaving, Leigh Whannell
Directors: Tony Mahony and Angus Sampson

This grimy little suburban Australian drama grabbed attention last year both for its subject matter and for the ingenious way it was marketed and released.

First, it's a factual retelling of a case in Melbourne in the 1980s, in which a dimwitted drug mule (here played by Angus Sampson) tried to keep his stash tucked away in his back end for longer than the police were legally allowed to keep him under observation in a hotel room.

As the ordeal edges towards the 10-day mark, things get pretty grim - as you'd imagine they would if you had multiple packs of heroin floating around your insides.

Surrounding the scenes inside the hotel room - where the police (led by Hugo Weaving relishing the chance to reveal his nastier side) try to force a confession and/or the substances out of the mule - we have a back story of inter-Asia drug dealing and suburban desperation.

Nothing Australian cinema hasn't served up before - the wonderful Animal Kingdom (2010) remains the genre's recent high water mark - but for the most part taken on with such relish by the cast that you remain engaged, even when you're wincing in some sort of sympathy for the man writhing away there on the hotel bed.

The picture it paints of the people on the fringes of Australian society is quite frightening as they all scrap about with haircuts, clothes and a language that seems at times as though it belongs as much to another universe as it does to another country.

The hardest thing to find is sympathy for anyone, given the nature of the crime the mule is trying to pull off, and you may end up finding yourself thinking everyone here gets their just desserts by the end, from criminal to cop.

The other interesting fact about the film is that even as it toured the world's festival circuit it was being released on digital platforms across the world - and the filmmakers were able to turn a tidy profit on a film that might otherwise have had a small domestic release and nothing much else.

It's another indication of how a truly global market is emerging.

Extras: deleted scenes; Making of featurette