A grand criminal adventure from Australia over one man’s impacted bowels
Leigh Wannell teams up with his Insidious co-star, Angus Sampson, in The Mule. A darkly humorous Australian crime caper, an inexperienced crook is caught smuggling 20 heroin-filled condoms in his stomach for a friend. Hoping to avoid jail, the inept smuggler tries to arrest his bodily functions for seven days. The police would then be forced to let him go free without the needed evidence in his stomach. Set against the backdrop of Australia’s historic victory in the 1983 America’s Cup sailing race, the quirky crime thriller delivers laughs and memorable characters.
Ray Jenkins (Angus Sampson) is an ordinary, possibly slow man living with his mother and stepfather. His stepfather has racked up serious gambling debts to a local gang boss, Pat (the ever brilliant John Noble). Ray’s friend Gavin (Leigh Wannell) is a drug dealer that works under Pat. When Ray goes on a trip to Bangkok, Gavin talks him into becoming a drug mule for Pat. Ray is not a criminal but he wants to help out his stepfather with the money. Ray’s smuggling inexperience costs him right as he gets off the plane in Australia, his suspicious behavior instantly alerts customs.
The Mule could be the Australian Fargo
The Mule could be the Australian Fargo
The Mule finds its groove when Ray is confronted with detectives Paris and Croft. Detective Tom Croft is a classic hard-nosed cop, one that has watched too many Dirty Harry movies. When Ray refuses an X-ray of his stomach and claims he is suffering from complete constipation, the two police detectives realize he’s an inept smuggler. Ray is moved to a guarded hotel room, where the officers will watch him for seven days and wait for his bowels to produce the evidence. The following week is a generally funny battle of wills between the suffering Ray and overbearing detective Tom Croft (Hugo Weaving). The film nicely mirrors their conflict with the underdog Australians challenging for the America’s Cup. That backdrop eventually becomes a prominent part of the developing narrative.
Defending Ray against the police is his court-appointed defense lawyer, the crusading Jasmine (Georgina Haig). She has her own problems with detective Croft, leading the lawyer to exhaust every possibility in freeing Ray. Gavin finds himself in a world of trouble when Pat discovers his heroin is missing, the brutal crime boss doesn’t care about excuses. Everything nicely comes together in The Mule as these threads merge in an unexpected way by the end.
The Mule’s sharply-drawn characters are vivid creations, ones that fit perfectly together. Hugo Weaving is great as an over-the-top cop willing to bend the rules, he’s the needed antagonist to Ray’s likable every-man character. Fringe’s viewers might freak out over hearing John Noble’s native Australian accent, but the veteran actor turns his small role as a nasty criminal boss into a vital working component of the film. Angus Sampson is the actual centerpiece, his performance as Ray invites sympathy for the well-meaning but stupid character. The Mule could be the Australian Fargo, its weirdly authentic characters in an unfamiliar locale mines far more humor than expected from its disturbing subject matter.
The Mule is not an overly impressive bit of eye candy. It weaves a fairly gritty film experience, supposedly shot with Arri Alexa digital cameras. The picture quality contains adequate definition, but this is not the sharpest film on Blu-ray. I presume some of that was intentional. The film is set in 1983 as a relatively recent period piece. XLRator Media has properly retained its native scope aspect ratio in 1080P resolution.
Confined to a BD-25, the main feature is encoded in AVC at exactly 20 Mbps. It’s a perfectly suitable video encode that possibly strips out finer detail, introducing very minor noise. Hints of digital ringing and aliasing occasionally show up. This is one of the softer Blu-rays derived from a movie mastered from a digital intermediate. There are no exaggerated tints in the color palette, flesh-tones err on the paler side of the spectrum.
The Mule’s decent contrast and consistent black levels are its best virtues. While the video has some texture, this is not overly detailed quality brimming with high-frequency content. Some possible filtering may have taken place to smooth out its consistency and appearance. XLRator Media didn’t break the bank bringing The Mule to Blu-ray, but it doesn’t look like they did anything but present it as intended by the filmmakers.
Ray’s digestive problems are presented with great emphasis in a solid 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack. The Mule is driven by dialogue more than most criminal thrillers, though the surround action gets heavier in a few settings. The LFE channel is heavily employed, the lossless audio likes to rumble with authority. A few songs and its incidental music are presented in pristine clarity. The Mule has a wide, expansive mix for its modest budget. This is not demo material but certainly a satisfying presentation.
XLRator Media provides optional English SDH subtitles in a white font. The subtitles remain inside the scope framing at all times.
Four featurettes sounds decent for a new release, until you realize they all run together for ten minutes. A commentary would have been interesting to hear since this film had co-directors and appears to have been a collaboration between several people.
Deleted Scenes (10:02 in HD) – Seven brief scenes of deleted footage. Most of them merely reinforce traits found in the film, though one scene does address something that went unanswered.
Who.What.Where.When. (04:04 in HD) – A short recap of the film’s plot occurs in this featurette, including brief interview segments. That becomes a recurring theme in all of these featurettes.
Ego (02:42 in HD) – A featurette explaining the motivations behind some of the characters.
Ticking Time Bomb (01:11 in HD) – An unusually short featurette cut more like a trailer for the film, including voice-over answers from two cast members.
1983 America’s Cup (02:17 in HD) – Hugo Weaving discusses the nationalistic pride and hysteria that swept Australia when their sailing team won the 1983 America’s Cup.
The Mule Trailer (02:34 in HD)
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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.