Dir. Duncan Jones
Starring: Alexander Skarsgård, Paul Rudd, Justin Theroux, Seyneb Saleh, and Robert Sheehan
This is another release where the movie almost seems secondary in the conversation. Following on from last months audacious release of The Cloverfield Paradox by Netflix, we are again discussing the streaming giants. Mute is Duncan Jones’ passion project. One he says he had in mind before he burst onto the scene with Moon, and one he’s been talking about ever since. The problem is no studio would fund the project. Netflix stepped in and rescued the film, and, as they seem to be setting themselves up as a creator driven company, gave Jones autonomy over the film. I loved Moon, and have been eagerly awaiting Mute ever since I saw the first bit of concept art years back. The experience of watching Mute was a far cry from the experience I had watching Moon. I saw Moon on its initial release at the cinema, becoming completely engrossed in it. Mute on the other hand, was watched in two halves, on two different screens, with a nap in between.
Mute is set forty years from now, in a futuristic version of Berlin. Flowing with immigrants, it’s become a cultural melting pot. We follow Leo, an Amish bar tender played by Alexander Skarsgård. Leo was involved in a boating accident when he was a child. His mother decided against him receiving any treatment due to her belief that God would heal him, and Leo is now left scarred and voiceless. When Leo’s girlfriend goes missing his search for her will lead him on a collision course with the seedy under-belly of Berlin, and two surgeons played by Paul Rudd, and Justin Theroux who work for the Russian mob.
Mute has has a lot of problems. One of them is timing. In terms of its future noir setting, it owes a huge debt to Blade Runner, it doesn’t help that we’ve just had a very good Blade Runner sequel which this film just can’t measure up to. We’ve also just had The Shape Of Water, where a mute lead character was used in a much more satisfying way. It’s biggest problems though lie with it’s lead character, and the story. Alexander Skarsgård is a charisma vacuum in this role, having him not speak doesn’t help one bit. The only time he interacts with other characters is to ask questions, which leaves him a complete enigma. He’s supposed to be the emotional pull for the film, but it’s hard to relate to him. His Amish roots don’t feel believable either. You can see why Jones has made this decision, when he interacts with future tech which requires voice activation it places him as an outsider, but these situations feel too contrived. He’s charaterisation is almost bi-polar, one minute being the gentle giant, and the next being an explosion of rage. There seems to be no motivation for these mood swings except to service the story, which in all honesty is hugely underwhelming. It meanders along from one scene to the next, there are moments of spark, but by the end I found it really hard to care.
There are some redeeming factors though. The cinematography is lush in places, and combined with another fantastic score by Clint Mansell, create moments of beauty and melancholic atmosphere that the film just can’t maintain. There’s also some ingenious worldbuilding. Justin Theroux standing out the roof of a car as his head passes through holographic road signs is a gorgeous sight to behold. In fact the film is at its best when following Rudd and Theroux, they maybe the films most repugnant characters, but there also the most interesting. There’s a manic energy when they’re on screen, which borders on black comedy, owning more to Terry Gilliam than to Ridley Scott. If only the rest of the film had the same energy.
Mute isn’t great, but nor is it wholly bad. It’s more of an interesting misfire from a talented director. There’s enough good moments that will win over some fans, and there’s a fantastic nod to Moon which, for me, made the movie worth watching. If the film was just based on Rudd and Theroux, I think it might have become a cult favourite, as it is there are too many moments which rob the film of any momentum, making it a rather dull affair. It’s a strange time for Netflix, they seem to be heavily investing in projects that other studios have avoided, and with the double hit of Mute and Cloverfield, you can’t help but feel they’ve been avoided for good reason.