Silence is Deafening
Duncan Jones has been trying to make Mute for years. It’s been almost 10 years since the director exploded onto the seen with the incredible Moon starring Sam Rockwell. He began talking about Mute shortly thereafter. He revealed details about a Blade Runner influenced world starring an Amish mute. It was intriguing. Not so much for its premise, which is a bit tired now. But because it was another idea from a gifted talent. Now, Mute has arrived.
The comparison to Blade Runner couldn’t be stated further. That film received a lavish sequel in last year’s Blade Runner 2049. Unfortunately, the comparisons between Blade Runner and Mute stop at the visuals. Mute is not the next great entry in the filmography of Duncan Jones. Instead, this may be one of the biggest disappointments in modern film history. It spends most of its length trying to find itself, only to lead into what can only be described as a painfully offensive 3rd act. The film spends more time meandering an interesting cityscape than it does telling you about the characters, plot, or world.
Audiences will learn absolutely nothing about the main character Leo, his life, or what he means to this society. Occasionally these things are touched upon, but the film isn’t really interested in those story elements. In fact, the film isn’t even interested in its own story. There are more than a few villains; there are more than a few heroes. What matters is that you saw an Amish guy in a futuristic Berlin. That’s Mute and its contributions to Science Fiction and Film Noir.
“You don’t know me…”
There’s a plot, technically. Reformed Amish mute Leo is searching for his waitress girlfriend after she goes “missing” one night. But that chain of events doesn’t begin until a significant portion of the film has already passed. Instead the film spends most of its time “world-building.” In this case that’s more of an excuse to focus on more interesting characters than the lead, who is surprisingly well-played by Alexander Skarsgård. The cast is, by far, the highlight of the film. If there’s a laugh to be found it’s in the performances of either Paul Rudd or Justin Theroux. If there’s any sympathy garnered it’s for Alexander Skarsgård‘s effective portrayal of Leo.
Unfortunately, the film doesn’t give much for these actors to do. There’s a string of scenes that connect a plot surrounding Leo’s girlfriend, but that falls by the wayside long before the end of the film. Character development is not something Mute is concerned with. Leo doesn’t learn anything. Paul Rudd’s Cactus Bill doesn’t learn anything. Justin Theroux’s character becomes one of the biggest problems with the film. When a film’s plot is almost non-existent it’s usually because there’s so much character work. But on the subject of character or plot development Mute is completely silent.
A Visual Treat
Duncan Jones is a huge Blade Runner fan. You can almost see the Coca-Cola ad from Blade Runner among the other lights in that Berlin Skyline. That’s the most effective part of Mute. Duncan Jones is a very talented director. He gets great performances out of his actors; he knows how to frame a shot. In fact, if it weren’t for Leo’s antiquated car one could argue that Mute and Blade Runner 2049 look as if they had similar budgets. When it’s likely that the latter film’s budget eclipsed Mute’s by around $200 million dollars. But the story doesn’t care about this futuristic Berlin because the main character doesn’t care about it.
Leo, a somewhat reformed person of Amish descent, loathes technology.
So why spend time wandering this beautiful and digitally inviting world when the main character couldn’t care less? Jones creates these elaborate settings, clubs, and technologies without ever sitting the audience down and letting them watch. This is a fun world, or so it appears to be. The film’s characters and audience just never get to find out.
Mute’s arrival on Netflix this weekend has been a fairly silent one. There’s no pomp and circumstance; there’s no ad campaign. Mute feels like a film that was quietly swept under the rug. Why else would Netflix release the film on the same weekend that Annihilation comes out? A film they’re distributing internationally and will undoubtedly release on the US Netflix sometime in the future.
It would seem the company knew they had a problem on their hands. That problem is Mute.
Just what went wrong is hard to say. Despite a solid filmography Duncan Jones doesn’t have much writing experience. Considering he’d been shopping this film around for a while without any luck implies that studios weren’t very impressed with the script. They had reason to be skeptical. Characters are wooden, the plot is thin, and revelations later in the film will leave audience members confused and mildly offended. Fortunately, there are some cool visuals and solid performances in Mute. Reasons to believe that Duncan Jones still has good films in him.
But it’s time to go back to the drawing board… with another writer.
- Visual Homage to Blade Runner
- Effective Performances from the Cast
- Complete Lack of Narrative Focus
- The last 30 Minutes are Almost Offensive
- Uninteresting Characters