I do enjoy dystopian science fiction films, so Mute had quite a lot to give.
In the middle of a hi-tech, future Germany, a mute, Amish bartender finds himself embroiled in Berlin’s seedy criminal underworld while tracking down the girl he loves after she mysteriously vanishes.
After the burns of Bright and The Cloverfield Paradox, it is fair to have some doubts about Netflix exclusive productions. Ambitious but flawed. Directed by Duncan Jones, the man behind Moon and… well, Warcraft: The Beginning… Mute dives into a Blade Runner-esque atmosphere and investigative-thriller style pacing and comes out the other end mostly unscathed.
Firstly, the film has some nice ideas. Towering Alexander Skarsgård plays Leo, an Amish man who after a terrible accident as a child cannot speak, working as a bartender in a club. The film does well to depict a sensitive relationship between him and Seyneb Saleh’s Naadirah, as well as a sense of confusion and urgency when she goes missing. A protagonist reluctant to use technology in a science fiction setting is unique, add to that his inability to speak, it isn’t hard for the film to make us feel alienated and alone.
The film buries itself in the deprived trappings of a choking future city, the colour palette is neon highlights over graffiti covered concrete, and the citizens have a well designed “future” look (having Leo painfully stick out, in plain clothes, by comparison). There’s a good sense of how our society has evolved into this one, for better or ill.
But, the film feels quite long. The second act is cumbersome. While we expect to follow Leo on his journey to find his lost love in a forest of neon and fiends, and that would have been excellent, the film builds up two other characters. Paul Rudd’s Cactus Bill and Justin Theroux’s Donald, two Americans war buddies stuck in Berlin and working with the criminal underworld so they might escape political ramifications. These two actors disappear into their roles spectacularly, but the screenplay feels undecided upon how the audience should feel about these men. By the end, they most certainly are villains, yet portions of the film are dedicated to showing them as somewhat likable.
Had the film kept them back and maintained Leo’s investigation that leads towards them, it wouldn’t have felt so awkwardly paced, with plenty of revelations and twists waiting in the third act. As it is, the complexity that the mystery intends is weakened a little.
Luckily, when the third act swings around, we get some decent fights, Skarsgård using a very unique weapon.
But I enjoyed Mute. If you stick with it, enjoy some lurid dystopian social commentary and world building, you’ll find there are decent characters and ideas implemented.
Additional Marshmallows: Also, Duncan Jones put a clip of a cartoon from my childhood into this film! A character has The Trap Door playing on a car dashboard monitor. Amazing!