Last weekend Alex Garland released a science fiction movie that was smart, atmospheric, entertaining but also made you think, this was Annihilation. Alex Garland already put his stamp in the sci-fi world with Ex Machina but then solidified it with Annihilation. Also, last weekend, another force in the world of science fiction released his latest film, director Duncan Jones. The filmmaker behind recent acclaimed science fiction films Moon and Source Code (and also Warcraft but that’s a different story), releases his passion project 16 years in the works, Mute.
Another big Netflix release, Mute looks impressive for a film being released on a streaming platform. The movie has also been a passion project for Jones. Initially, he wanted this to be his first feature but it kept getting pushed off. I wish it kept getting pushed off because this movie does not feel like it was 16 years in development. Mute feels like a mishmash of different elements with a confused story that hasn’t been fleshed out.
Mute’s primary story follows Leo (Alexander Skarsgård), a mute bartender living in future Berlin. His girlfriend, Naadirah, goes missing which sends him on a journey to find him. Leo comes from an Amish community and a childhood accident leaves him unable to speak (even though the technology exists for him to be able too).
Jones cites Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner as a major influence on the movie and quite frankly he didn’t need to say that. Mute attempts to create a noir style mood but it looks little more than a collection of leftover visuals from Blade Runner 2049 and Netflix’s new cyberpunk series Altered Carbon. There is a difference between being influenced by something and just doing nothing new with it. Ghost in the Shell is influenced by Blade Runner but does something new and puts its own touches on the cyberpunk idea. Mute does none of those things. The movie isn’t even an example of something we’ve seen before but done really well. Mute feels like every other cyberpunk future lazily scrapped together. Jones doesn’t seem to add much of his own touch to the film which is surprising, to say the least.
The secondary storyline (that eventually crosses path with the overall plot) follows two former Army doctors living in Germany. One is looking for a way home to America with his only daughter, played by Paul Rudd named Cactus. The other doctor, named Duck, is played by Justin Theroux. The two share a connection with the disappearance of Leo’s girlfriend. While this isn’t the main plotline this is the more interesting of the two. Paul Rudd being placed into a villainous role is interesting and there are some moments of greatness. I would like to see him in more roles like this.
The storyline itself tends to overtake the movie’s main arc and creates a real feeling of unbalance, whose story is Mute really telling? There is also some content that I’m not sure if it was handled in the best possible way. Cactus’s friend, Duck, has pictures of naked children and is a pedophile. This is a pretty big thing to have in the movie but is only tiptoed around, so it seems strange to have it there in the first place. Some have described this as tone deaf and I can’t say I would argue with someone who felt that way.
The worst aspect of the movie is the character of Leo is boring. Alexander Skarsgard is trying to elicit an emotional performance with almost no dialogue but his character feels simply stoic, dour with only moments tenderness. This makes it hard to get invested in his story and even if Paul Rudd’s storyline is tone-deaf it is still more interesting because there is some more character work.
It gives me no amount of pleasure to write a poor review for a filmmaker’s passion project (a movie he spent 16 years on developing and dedicated to his parents). It is a shame that the project turned out the way it did, Jones has shown himself to be a director with a vision and that is what this movie sorely lacks, a vision. For a passion project, I didn’t feel much passion in the movie. Even with a movie like Warcraft which wasn’t great or even very good (although I think it had its moments for sure), there was a passion, a filmmaker behind the wheel guiding it. Mute doesn’t feel like really anything is driving it. This is a very disappointing science fiction film from someone who has a great voice in the science fiction genre.