Mute is streaming on Netflix on February 23.
By I. Simon
Having excellent films such as Moon and Source Code under his belt, Duncan Jones has proven to be one of the most promising filmmakers in the sci-fi genre working today. Both Moon and Source Code were smart, thought provoking science fiction films that truly utilize their genre. Moon asked “What if there really is a man on the moon?’, and even though Source Code used the “Groundhog Day” premise, the overall execution of the product was excellent, and the film itself was thought provoking. In development hell for several years, Mute is a movie that Duncan Jones has said was heavily inspired by Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. While I was excited for Mute because I loved all his previous projects, I was also nervous because of the fact that Duncan Jones said that no company would get this project off the ground other than Netflix. In the end, Mute was not the great film that I wanted, nor was it the disaster I expected. What I did get, however, is somewhat of a mixed bag, but also something along the lines of ambitious and admirable.
Starring Alexander Skarsgård (True Blood), Paul Rudd (Ant-Man), and Justin Theroux (Mulholland Drive), Mute is set forty years from today in Berlin, and follows Leo Beiler (Skarsgård), a bartender who has been mute ever since a tragic incident that had happened when he was young, who is searching for his missing girlfriend (Seyneb Saleh), as it takes him deeper and deeper into a crime-ridden underworld. The premise may seem somewhat simple, and it kind of is. Just like with Blade Runner, the plot is secondary to the world. Mute focuses less on its story and characters, and more on the overall big picture.
Purely on a technical level, Mute might be a masterpiece. Directionally, Duncan Jones does, at the very least, a really great job (we will get to his script later). Jones excels at creating this futuristic world and exploring it, even if there are obvious signs that it wants to be Blade Runner at times. Visually, Mute is very beautiful, one of the reasons being Gary Shaw’s absolutely stellar cinematography. Shaw does a fantastic job capturing the colorful yet gritty look and feel of this world. The shots and color palette as a whole are very vibrant. In terms of other technical merits, I also have to praise composer Clint Mansell’s fantastic score. Of all of Mansell’s film scores that I have listened to, this is by far my favorite of his. The sound design and editing are also well done. Pretty much, all of the technical choices work very well.
Then we have Duncan Jones & Michael Robert Johnson’s script, which is where the problems come in. Similar to Blade Runner, the plot and characters are secondary to the big picture. Mute is not a film thick on characterization or story, and is instead more focused on its presentation. Some of the characters are elevated by the performances, but as a whole, they aren’t so memorable. In particular, the characters played by Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux are kind of odd and take the narrative in strange directions. This causes the film’s narrative to get a bit muddled around the second act. The film still manages to be fairly entertaining overall, but it is a bit incoherent and hard to follow at times. This also affects the pacing a bit too, and I feel that Duncan Jones wanted this to be “his Blade Runner” a bit too badly. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the script could definitely be better, and a bit more tightly constructed, too. That said, there is definitely some thematic depth to the screenplay. There are some themes that may be relevant to today’s world, if the film was implying what I think it was implying. While the script is far from perfect, it is definitely ambitious.
Coming to the performances, Alexander Skarsgård in particular gives a strong performance, especially considering that he’s given little to work with. He shows emotion through his facial expressions and movements (because his character is mute), and makes a protagonist that was overall compelling and easy for me to sympathize with. The other notable performance comes from Paul Rudd. I can’t say anything about his character due to spoilers, but this is a very different Paul Rudd from anything you’ve seen before. As for the other performances, they are overall solid.
Overall, Mute is a decent yet somewhat disappointing film. That said, it is also an admirable and a very ambitious film, and I won’t be surprised if it polarizes both critics and film fans alike. It does have the markings of a potential cult classic, and I have to give credit to Duncan Jones and Netflix for getting this project off the ground, as it is very much a daring film. Considering how terrible recent Netflix sci-fi/fantasy films such as Bright and The Cloverfield Paradox turned out to be, this is somewhat of a surprise. If you are a fan of Duncan Jones, or if you like ambitious science fiction films, then I’d lightly recommend Mute. This is a film that I will definitely have to visit again sometime in the future.
I give Mute a B-.