It remains a sad fact of life in the UK that the only cultures most of us have any notion of are our own and that of the United States, the dominant film-making force of the English-speaking world. One of the biggest Anglo countries, Australia, has remarkably few famous films, except for maybe Crocodile Dundee, Mad Max, and… their sequels. That’s about all. As a result, we have little notion of the internal struggles of the country, although most of us have well-formed opinions on America’s gun problems, police violence and racial tension.
The Smuggler, or the Mule in Australia, is unlikely to change that. The biggest indicators of prejudice come from the crooked policemen, who spit out phrases like “Westie” and “Mongoloid.” Westie is the equivalent of being called a chav here, and mongoloid is racial abuse relating to the central character’s aboriginal looks.
Aside from that, the film is a pretty straightforward story of police brutality and small-time gangsters. Set in the 80s, the main character Ray Jenkins (Angus Sampson) is an ugly, slouched, and quiet man who is still living with his parents in their small-town shack and working a dead-end job in a TV repair shop. Despite this, he takes pride in his position as one of the “club men” of the local football team, and is a big hit at parties, enjoying a drink with his friends, able to defend himself, and sure to receive a kiss from a local lady by the end of the night.
Unfortunately, some members of his football team are also gangsters, and his best friend, the Vice Captain, persuades him to smuggle some heroin hidden in condoms inside his stomach on the way home from their tour in Thailand. The friend gets through, Ray does not. Cooped up inside a hotel room with a number of police officers, he attempts to keep the drugs inside him for seven days, after which they have to release him by law.
The film is a few things: one, it seems like one long “bottle episode” as most of the film is set inside the one hotel room that the protagonist is detained in. Two, it is a bit like a cross between a gangster film and one of our favourite British police-procedure detective programmes. It is also pleasingly unpredictable, with viewers left to guess who out of the policemen is the most rotten of the bunch, although no character is exactly squeaky clean.
Some characters lack development, most notably the firm, attractive young lawyer who sticks by the unrepresented Smuggler, but fails to make any real impression on him or the policemen except as an object of their fantasies. The pacing can seem a bit strange and many parts of the film are hard to follow, such as in a funeral scene where it is hard to know which of the murdered characters it was for. In what might be described as Australian fashion, The Smuggler is also rather crass, with several scenes that force the viewer to experience what horrors are involved in stashing narcotics inside a stomach, and many violent scenes seem sudden and unprovoked. It can seem like a gross episode of Hustle.
If you can stomach a bit of gross humour though, The Smuggler has an enjoyable plot, with a few nice twists and turns along the way. It doesn’t do anything particularly new, but that’s alright – we could do with a few more humorous ‘Strayan films making their way over here from Down Under.
THE SMUGGLER will be released in selected cinemas and on DVD from 22 FEBRUARY, and VOD 29 FEBRUARY