Mute was supposed to be one of Netflix’s biggest films of 2018 with a cast including Alexander Skarsgård, Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux and also being helmed by acclaimed director Duncan Jones of Moon (2009) and Source Code (2011) fame. However this Sci-Fi Mystery is dull from the outset and aside from being visually stunning doesn’t offer anything worth taking time to check out. The tone is all over the place, structurally it doesn’t work, the pacing is out of whack, and the plot (or lack thereof) isn’t intriguing enough to get you to care. Set in a futuristic Berlin the plot follows Leo, a mute bartender who after the disappearance of his partner delves deeper into the cities underworld to uncover what happened to her. Sounds intriguing doesn’t it? Trust me…. it isn’t. I was very much looking forward to this film especially due to the talent involved but with each passing minute I became more and more disappointed as it constantly proved it had nothing to offer.
Nothing about this movie grabbed me, I was never invested in a character or their journey, and there wasn’t a single plot detail I found intriguing enough to care about. One major issue amongst the many is that the protagonist played by Skarsgård who despite lacking a voice is also void of any personality, history, and anything that would allow you to relate to him on an emotional level. Aside from the fact that he’s Amish and has a knack for carving wood we don’t learn anything about him and so that lends no credence to anything we see him do later on. I don’t think it’s the fault of Skarsgård because for what it’s worth he does depict emotion well for the most part to allow some sympathy to be felt for him but as there is nothing to his character he’s still just a dull and uninspiring protagonist. And everything falls apart from there. A considerable amount of the runtime is spent following Paul Rudd’s character who for most of the movie doesn’t really have a purpose being in the film as he has almost no bearing on the plot whatsoever. He’s just hovering around in the world waiting to be given something to do and his scenes are just boring because they don’t connect in any obviously meaningful way. One performance I liked despite her limited screen-time was from Seyneb Saleh who plays Naadirah, I won’t go into her role for the sake of spoilers but I’d have liked if she was in the film more.
With Rudd’s character is where the drastic tonal discrepancies are introduced because the runtime is split 65-35 in terms of focusing on Skarsgård and Rudd respectively and the two tones associated with their characters clash very awkwardly. One scene you’ll be subjected to the serious investigative work being undertaken by Skarsgård and then in the next Rudd’s character is cracking jokes and having and absolute fucking ball playing bowling. It swap back and forth between these tones a lot and it’s jarring every time and doesn’t work. If you isolate the sequences, some of Rudd’s humour works and it is funny but in the context of the movie as a whole it just doesn’t. This is what I am talking about when I say the structure doesn’t work, the split story approach fails due to A: the tones seeming like two different movies, and B: the events with each character acting almost independent of each other.
The main plot doesn’t actually kick into gear until I’d say the second act which is around 35-40 minutes into the film and even then there isn’t any sense of urgency building whereas the events unfolding dictate that there should be. The entire second act is more of the same, it sticks with a pace that flips between slow and very slow depending on who it’s following and there isn’t a single bit of intrigue that could draw me in to the mystery. When you get to the third act some pieces of what little plot there is start to fall in line but this all feels less like it’s piecing together previous plot points and more like it’s inventing a plot and coming up with explanations after the fact. There’s a bunch of minor subplots involving small groups of characters all of which are uninteresting and there isn’t a clear indication of how it all connects through this underworld they’re trying to establish and briefly explore.
Also I need to talk about one element that is handled absolutely fucking shockingly and made certain scenes very uncomfortable to watch. There is one disturbing subplot in here touching on pedophilia and it wouldn’t be nearly as hard to take in if it was handled with any level of seriousness. It’s almost as if the film is laughing off the uncomfortable subject matter whenever it becomes a focus. It’s a very odd approach that I don’t understand as if the characters aren’t taking the matter seriously it creates a distinct separation between the morals of the real world and real people and those of the characters in here.
There really isn’t much else I can say about this movie other than the only thing it gets entirely right are the visuals. The world will inevitably be compared to Blade Runner and in some respects it does draw from Philip K Dick’s visions but I’d say it’s more of a Blade Runner lite…. where it’s a melding of that world and our world which creates a unique aesthetic. The special effects are great and seamless with the practical environment and it’s presented well with some nicely shot cinematography.
But other than that it fails to impress in almost every other department and this is going to be a big red mark on Duncan Jones’ portfolio as this has been his passion project for 16 years and the result is very poor. I do not recommend this movie as in the realms of TV and Movies there are a number of Sci-Fi alternatives that are much better than this and actually good. The performances aren’t terrible it’s just that the way the characters are written and integrated into the story is a mess and that’s entirely on the screenwriters. It’s a dull, lifeless film from beginning to end with very little to offer and your time is better spent elsewhere.