Should Netflix’ Mute Shut Up and Go Away? Or Will It Leave You Entranced?
My basic knowledge about Mute going in was limited to the cast list and the promotional poster that seemed to be a throwback to 40s noir films. Being a fan of the cast and those kind of mysteries, I was generally looking forward to this one.
Mute gets its name from its protagonist, Leo (Alexander Skarsgård) who is Amish and through some mysterious circumstances has had his throat lashed. Because he is Amish, his mother refuses to let him have the surgery needed to restore his voice. As an adult he is a bartender at a night club in Berlin and has a girlfriend who he adores. She also works at the same bar as a waitress. Even though the world around him, set 40 years in the future from our time, is technologically advanced, Leo prefers to live the simple life. Naadirah (Seyneb Saleh) the aforementioned girlfriend gives him a phone, so she can more easily contact him, even going as far as giving him the most basic model (think early Droid with the flip up keyboard but with better features than our phones of today). After some men harass Naadirah at the club, Leo shows off his combat skills, but this lands him in trouble. Soon Naadirah goes missing and Leo takes it upon himself to find her, hunting down clues to her whereabouts using his phone. Because he is mute, he has trouble interacting with the world: people are dismissive of him and think he is dumb and every app in this setting seems to need voice activation to work. He lets neither of these circumstances deter him from his mission.
The world building for this movie felt like a diet Blade Runner. It was dirty, full of neon, had flying cars, and robotic exotic dancers, but it didn’t fully immerse the viewer with great sound design or production design. For example, all the cars were CGI and they looked terrible, almost as if they were rendered on screen in a previous decade. And because such environmental features are a big part of creating the world of the film, this becomes a major shortcoming. However, if these elements were stripped away the movie would almost feel like the present day, except that we don’t have drones delivering our food yet. So, it’s not just a failure of design, but a failure of imagination.
The secondary plot of this movie also felt very uneven. It involves two US Military Surgeons, Duck (Justin Theroux) who has a successful cybernetic enhancement practice which targets children who have lost limbs, and Cactus Bill (Paul Rudd) who has gone AWOL and is trying to obtain fake documentations to go back home without the military catching him. At first you think these guys are adorable because they flirt back and forth constantly, and the movie makes you feel like they’re destined to get married. Then the truth starts to come out about them and their plot takes an utterly disturbing turn that is bound leave audiences feeling uncomfortable and questioning the decision making of director Duncan Jones.
Skarsgård’s performance helped saved this movie just a little. Since he couldn’t talk, he had to emote with his eyes and he did that well. He made you care about him because he seemed like such a nice guy. It’s the little character quirks that really win us over: the way he gulps down a big beer glass full of water each night, the way he likes to carve little beads, and drew little sketches in a tiny sketch book. Plus, he really loves his girlfriend no matter what. Any time someone was mean to him because he was mute, or the world of technology wasn’t accessible to him because of his condition, it was heartbreaking.
The overall story was odd. It was only 2 hours and 6 minutes long but felt like a lot more. There were moments where it forgot about the primary character for far too long and focused too much on Cactus Bill’s plot. At one point the movie felt complete, but then went on for another 15-20 minutes. The ending, when it finally does come, is satisfying however, and I felt certain characters got their comeuppance. Which helps.
In short, Mute isn’t breaking any new ground for the genre, and its themes and subject matter have been tackled by better films.
2 / 5