Cast: Hugo Weaving, Angus Sampson, Leigh Whannell, Ewen Leslie, Geoff Morrell, Georgina Haig, Noni Hazlehurst, John Noble
Director: Tony Mahony
Running Time: 103 minutes
Synopsis: September, 1983. Ray Jenkins, an unlikely recipient of his football team's -Clubman of the Year' award, is set to miss the end of season trip to Bangkok until team-mate Gavin Ellis, an associate of the football club president/local reception centre owner Pat Shepherd, offers him a job as a drug mule to help ease his parent's financial burdens. As the loyal yet passive son of doting mother Judy Jenkins and footy coach stepfather John O'hara; Ray initially refuses but is naively seduced by Gavin and his world, one far removed from his own banal life.
After quitting his job as a TV repairman, Ray agrees to join Gavin in Bangkok…where reality hits…but it's too late to back out.
Arriving at Melbourne Airport, Ray's ineptitude as a Mule arouses the suspicions of Customs Officers and he is promptly detained. Gavin, meanwhile manages to get through Customs unscathed and also evade Ziggy Woytak, Pat's Lithuanian henchman, who has been sent to retrieve him.
Ray is handed over to Australian Federal Police Tom Croft a hard as nails old school cop and his officious partner Les Paris. Without Ray's permission the Police are unable to X-Ray or internally examine him. They do however have the right to hold him in a hotel room nearby the airport '…until you empty your bowels…twice". Meanwhile Pat sends Ziggy to find the doublecrossing Gavin, who escapes again.
In the hotel another cat and mouse game ensues as the cops wait for nature to take its course. They run a good cop (Les)/bad cop (Tom) routine on The Mule. Les wants to put away the real criminals behind the drug run as Tom seeks to bash whatever is inside Ray, out. The next morning, Gavin locates John, who tells him where Ray is being held.
Crusading lawyer Jasmine Griffiths is assigned Ray's case, much to the derision of Croft, whose violent approach only increases Ray's determination not to cave in. Ray learns that the police can only keep him for 7 days without evidence. As long as Ray refuses to go to the toilet, his story holds. Gavin checks into the same hotel and tries to get to Ray. On TV the America's Cup yacht race builds to a climax as the cops continue to work on the stubborn Mule.
Pat visits John and finds out where Ray is. At the hotel Pat's associate Phuk discovers Gavin is hiding there too. As Pat and his boys go to work on the double-crosser, Pat gives Gavin the ultimatum 'You're gonna kill The Mule before he sings to pigs…".
Elsewhere John – wracked with guilt – confesses all to Judy who slings him out. He confronts Pat and is -jumped' by Phuk. Tom uses even more extreme measures on Ray followed by a 72-hour extension to his incarceration, but cannot break his will. Even Judy can't make her son crack.
Finally, Ray confesses to Jasmine for whom beating the cops has become everything. She encourages him to 'hold on…just a little bit longer".
Seemingly everyone is out for themselves. Gavin visits Ray, immediately feeling remorse and agrees to name names atop the hotel roof to Les who takes matters into his own hands, literally. Ray witnesses the murder and confides in Tom before the cops are granted yet another extension. Ray -drugs' his night-watchman and rids himself of his stomach's contents…but where?
Jasmine arrives during the final race of the America's Cup '…to collect my client upon his imminent release". Tom and Les object. Tom (accompanied by Jasmine) visits the Judge's home to wrangle a further extension which is not granted, rather they have to release Ray immediately. Les assaults Ray as Australia wins the America's Cup breaking the longest winning streak ever in sports history (132 years!). Ray is removed on a gurney as Tom and Jasmine return. Now alone in the hotel room a frustrated Les tears the room apart in his search for -evidence' and instead discovers a listening device. Tom returns to arrest his -partner'.
Pat is celebrating Australia II's victory with revellers at Paradise Gardens as the federal police arrive. He is brutally murdered by his henchman Phuk moments before Tom can arrest either man.
Judy awakes to an empty home. Ray appears outside his former place of employment; the TV repair shop. The whereabouts of his stomach contents is finally revealed…as Prime Minister Bob Hawke states 'Any boss who sacks a worker for not turning up today is a bum!…"
'Have a think about the Thailand offer; Get -em in. Get -em out and Robert's our Aunty's husband…" Gavin Ellis
The Mule is the long awaited feature film penned by three of Australia's most exciting on and off screen talents Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson and Jaime Browne.
Jaime Browne drafted the original script based on a newspaper article about a drug smuggler who had been caught at a New Zealand airport, held in an hotel room and defiantly refused to go to the toilet. Jaime Browne used this as a jumping off point for his script, which Sampson read originally as an actor. Years later Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson optioned Jaime Browne's script and from 2008 followed each other around the world, finding windows in each other schedules to write the screenplay for The Mule.
Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson had long been looking for a project that they could be 'wholly responsible for… to move beyond our comfort zones in filmmaking. Leigh Whannell was keen for us to act together and I was keen for us to write together" Angus Sampson said. Leigh Whannell, who has worked consistently in the US since he created the hugely successful SAW franchise, relished the opportunity to write something in the language of his childhood 'I was actually writing this lingo that I had heard growing up at the local football club and I was loving it. I am so proud of the script." said Leigh Whannell.
The appeal of the film is clear, as cast member Geoff Morrell says '…audiences have a fascination with drug mules…with the idea of someone swallowing these big things, you know I swallow a vitamin pill and it's always a bit -oh I hope that goes down!' So the notion of swallowing a kilogram of heroin in all these packages and then it staying in there is fascinating because it is so simple; it's the low tech every man way of getting round the system."
As writers Angus Sampson and Leigh Whannell found they had a good chemistry together, combining their strengths and experience to refine the story and push each other to find the truth in each scene, character, line and nuance within the script.
Following an investor read through in 2008 the film was taken to eOne who came on board for local distribution and international sales. Screen Australia financed the final stage of development before coming on board as the major production investor, followed by Film Victoria. Executive producer David Griffiths, an old school friend of Angus Sampson's, raised the private finance.
With private investors from the UK, USA, Japan, Hong Kong, UAE and Australia everyone who has come on board The Mule has been a supportive and vital part of the production.
With pre-production a few months away Angus Sampson approached his colleague Jane Liscombe to come on board, he'd worked with Jane previously on commercials and he knew that having advertising connections would be fiscally beneficial to the film. He also approached two film practitioners whose work he'd admired individually and invited them each to come aboard The Mule train to lend their vast experience and intellect. 'Michele Bennett came on board as EP and Michelle Russell ran the production office as Line Producer / UPM. They didn't miss a trick and guided us through many a logistical jungle. We were incredibly blessed." said Angus Sampson. 'They were our very own M&M's…".
Setting the scene
'Yachtsmen have always been symbols of the working class." Jasmine Griffiths
Set in 1983, The Mule exists in a more naïve era, a time when you could get away with a lot more. Before people and technology became so adept at catching drug mules and when the biggest thing happening in Australia was the America's Cup. Talk about a race that stopped a nation, the race that prompted then Prime Minister Bob Hawke to deliver his infamous line -"Any boss who sacks a worker for not turning up today is a bum!" Australia, it thought, was front and centre on the world stage and Australian masculinity at it most ferocious.
Filmed over 30 days in Melbourne and Bangkok with cinematography by Stefan Duscio, production design by Paddy Reardon and costumes by Cappi Ireland, Angus and Leigh felt truly blessed to collaborate with such talented and experienced heads of departments.
Paddy Reardon and Cappi Ireland did such an amazing job recreating much more than a clichéd version of the early 80's. They created a textured world in which complex film characters could lie, cheat, swindle and operate in a truly believable setting accurate to the socio-economic society they lived in, but never kitsch.
'A lot of shows that are based in a particular era often have the phrase "We had a lot of fun with the period" but I think you can sometimes go too far with that. In my discussions about what John would wear we decided that it's just clothes and clothes he just doesn't really care about, utilitarian. The ubiquitous jacket that he always wears. John doesn't work, he's just got pretty basic clothes that don't make any statement, they don't stand out..." recalls Geoff Morrell.
One of the key sets was the hotel room, a studio purpose built for the film and dressed in tones of brown, as befitting the 1980's and the subject matter, to a certain extent. That was where Hugo Weaving and Ewen Leslie spent most of their scenes. As Ewen Leslie said 'There is a lot of brown in this film. The hotel room where I spend the majority of the film is just lots of different shades of brown and I was looking at the set around Day 4 and, I hope Paddy Reardon who is the production designer wouldn't mind me saying this, I thought, right, it is actually just lots of shades of poo. But it looks really beautiful, it gives the film a really beautiful look and a beautiful style of its own."
The Mule was primarily filmed on location throughout Melbourne's Western Suburbs and Bangkok, Thailand where production 'bathed in the brilliance of the Thai crew, we shot in the old part of Chinatown and on the Chao Phraya River. Stefan Duscio our cinematographer was such a hero (even more so than usual). He was drenched in sweat shooting off his shoulder, walking backwards, navigating 50 plus extras in 50 degree heat. It was a real joy to film in that incredibly vibrant city." said Angus Sampson.
'He is not a case study toots, he's a shithead with a gut full of junk." Tom Croft
At the heart of the film is a naive mummy's boy Ray Jenkins, played by Angus Sampson, who is pressured into smuggling heroin from Bangkok, Thailand to Sunshine, Australia under the guise of an end-of-season football trip. Arriving home with a kilo of narcotics hidden in his stomach, Ray's panicked exit from Melbourne airport is thwarted by suspicious customs officials. A subsequent inspection brings Ray under the watchful eye of federal police who are convinced he has drugs in stomach but have no solid evidence. Ray's refusal to -go to the toilet' only compound their suspicions and until he gives permission for the police to X-Ray or internally examine him, Ray's story of being constipated holds.
Throughout the 1983 America's Cup yacht race emblazons on every TV screen imaginable as Ray continues his refusals more out of fear than defiance; the police have no option but to sit and let nature take its course as the law permits them to hold Ray without evidence for up to and including seven days or until he moves his bowels…twice.
'He is facing years in jail, his whole life is unravelling, he thinks if I can keep these drugs inside me they have got nothing to charge me with. So these rough and tumble Federal cops are faced with a situation they have never been faced with before which is a drug mule refusing to shit out the evidence and that decision of Ray's sets in motion this entire catastrophe of a story and drags everyone into it," explains Leigh Whannell.
Surrounding this rather reluctant and uncommon hero is the rest of the players; Ray's childhood friend and ex neighbour Gavin Ellis, played by Leigh Whannell, vice captain of the local football team and someone that Ray looks up to is the bad influence of the film. Gavin, wanting to elevate his own status from drug runner to a greater cut of the action, coerces Ray into muling via constant reminders of his family's less than desirable fiscal predicaments…'Eight grand could do a lot for a bloke like you..and your Mum." hints Gavin Ellis.
'I think Gavin Ellis has muled drugs on his own for a long time, that's what he is, that's all he is, a mule. In the end real power is about delegation and I think, after a while, Gavin Ellis starts to feel like -well why can't I be the boss? I should have my own mule.' And that's what he sees in Ray... but the problem with Gavin Ellis is he's not as crafty a thinker as he thinks he is. A really good crook needs more than just muscle and the guts to jump into a fight, you need to be crafty," said Leigh Whannell.
'Everyone works for somebody" and Gavin Ellis works for the malevolent force that is the president of the local football club and owner of Paradise Gardens Reception Centre, Pat Shepherd, played by John Noble.
He's the -good' guy around town organising charity drives and giving donations but his real money comes from dealing the drugs to the town. 'He is a working class boy who has done well, he has got away from his working class roots, he has now become a proprietor of a club and he's the big shot around town. He is pretty pleased with where he has come in life and his ego would certainly be very healthy." said John Noble. 'Ego, masculinity and greed are the driving forces of our society. I mean we men are strange animals and particularly when we are testosterone driven, we love power and are very competitive with each other. As a general rule men are and if that is not restrained by the rule of law then we behave badly and that's just a fact of life."
Pat doesn't think highly of anyone in the town, he can see people's weak points and is happy to manipulate them to the full. When Ray wins the West Sunshine Football's -Clubman of the Year' and easily skulls the mandatory glass of beer in one sip, Pat knows his gut feeling was right about Ray and that he might have the talents needed to make a good mule 'Pat looks at him thinking oh boy this boy can swallow, this boy could swallow balloons full of heroin, there is no problem here." says Noble.
A former -wharfie', Pat's got his fingers in more pies than Big Ben, although Pat never gets his fingers dirty, not these days anyway, his -employees' do that; Phuk, played by Chris Pang, is stationed in suburban Sunshine at the request of his Aunty/Uncle Sonia back in Bangkok.
Whilst newly employed muscle from Lithuania (via the shipping docks) is Ziggy Woytak, played by Ilya Altman, a mono syllabic man mountain who doesn't speak English good…Both men are lethal weapons that Pat prefers to treat like dogs.
Ray's doting mother, played by Noni Hazlehurst, is Judy Jenkins. A stoic woman who has lived in Sunshine for decades, witnessing it grow from satellite suburb to hardened criminal enclave. Judy knows her way around the suburb both geographically and socially. Judy has done everything she could to keep Ray on the straight and narrow. Although now with her only son in police custody, she is trying to make the best of the situation. 'Judy has always thought that Ray has quite a weak character and he is quite easily led which is why she has always ridden him so hard to try and keep him on the straight and narrow. You know he is not overly loaded in the brains department and she gets that but he is a good soul so I think she feels he has been made a victim of and therefore those people who had done that to him really have taken advantage of someone who should have been left alone," said Noni Hazlehurst.
Long term coach of the local football team John O'Hara, played by Geoff Morrell, is Judy's husband and Ray's step-father. He's a nice enough bloke, who is burdened with a former gambling and alcohol addiction. Both John and Pat grew up together, though they aren't close. Keeping a -civil' silence about each other's activities. John proves the adage -nice guys finish last'.
Still, at least he is nice. Although nice doesn't pay the bills.'He is a man who is emasculated by things in life, his life hasn't panned out as well as he would have thought so he finds himself in a situation where he hasn't got a job anymore and so he is struggling to find ways to be a man." says Morrell. All of these characters are looking for something -better in life', as Hazlehurst said, 'The Mule is about greed and a sense of entitlement which pervades much of western society. I always tell my kids you are not special but you are unique; as soon as you think are special that means someone else isn't."
'Never had a Mule refuse to shit before…" Les Paris
The Mule is a film that could be described as a tale of presumptive egos and the second act is firmly given over to two of the best egos in the business; Detective Tom Croft, played by Hugo Weaving, and Detective Les Paris, played by Ewen Leslie. Destined to become one of cinemas most enigmatic and unforgettable detective duos, Croft and Paris start out using the tried and tested good cop / bad cop routine. 'Les very much enjoys the procedural aspect of being a detective, talking Ray through his rights and talking him through exactly what is going to be happening whereas Tom is a lot better at punching people. They balance each other out well, Tom becomes the muscle and is quite happy to have Les do all the talking,' explains Ewen Leslie.
Ewen Leslie found Leigh Weaving to be 'incredibly generous, he is incredibly supportive and incredibly experienced and it is always wonderful to work with people like that and see how they operate on a set, see how they carry themselves and handle themselves. Yes, it's been a really wonderful, wonderful experience."
The zealous Feds arrest and accompany Ray to the nearby SKYWAYS Airport Hotel. There they will oversee him empty his bowels twice…or if push doesn't come to shove, the extremely unlikely (yet legally entitled) seven days of incarceration.
'How long can the bastard last?" so ponders Detective Tom Croft.
It's here we meet Ray's legal aid lawyer Jasmine Griffiths, played by Georgina Haig. Jasmine is ahead of her time professionally and socially, holding more than her own in this world of misogynists, however, Legal Aid just isn't doing it for her these days. Fiercely intelligent and calm under pressure, she sees herself as very humble and selfless 'but in fact she is very ambitious and smart and wants to be a very powerful player, she is not really able to do that in Legal Aid so part of what she is trying to downplay and hide in the film is that drive and that want to be recognised," says Haig.
Placed under lock and key, Ray is constantly watched by the federal police including junior officers Constable Rowland, played by Richard Davies and the masochistic Constable Coupland, played by Fletcher Humphrys.
Here the film takes yet another a compelling turn, that of a thriller…now it's a race against time. Time is a ticking, although in this instance the ticking time bomb is a human body. All Ray has to do is not go to the toilet for seven days…surely he could do that…couldn't he?
As Ray's plight seem s more and more impossible the America's Cup escalates to a dramatic finale mirroring our protagonist's fight, 'the underdog fighting the bigger powers, that's what the America's Cup represented and that's what Ray represents," says Georgina Haig.
Our hero has to reach into himself physically and emotionally to find a way and will to survive. He's not out to protect just himself, but more so his loving Mother…to protect her from the truth. That he is guilty.
Guilty of being passive.
But is this revelation too late?
Can Ray -hold on'? And if so, for how much longer?
Will he survive? Surely not…
Might he escape? How? Yes Ray is concealing so
mething, albeit tangible.
But what are the others are concealing?
This is undoubtedly one of the films greatest achievements, that as an audience you are willing the hero not to poo…or perhaps you are willing Ray to poo.
To poo or not to poo?
As Hugo Weaving puts it 'it felt not just novel, it felt like it was exploring something that hadn't really been explored properly before and I think it is to do with this juxtaposition of (Nationalistic) flag waving and shit."