Mute (2018)

  • Time: 126 min
  • Genre: Mystery | Sci-Fi | Thriller
  • Director: Duncan Jones
  • Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Paul Rudd, Justin Theroux


Berlin. Forty years from today. A roiling city of immigrants, where East crashes against West in a science-fiction Casablanca. Leo Beiler (Skarsgard), a mute bartender has one reason and one reason only for living here, and she’s disappeared. But when Leo’s search takes him deeper into the city’s underbelly, an odd pair of American surgeons (led by Rudd) seem to be the only recurring clue, and Leo can’t tell if they can help, or who he should fear most.

One review

  • Blade Runner’s undeniable influence on what the present-future world looks like has now become more curse than blessing. Its vision of a film noir set in a sci-fi, cyberpunk world is not even being used as a springboard or source for inspiration, but rather being lifted practically wholesale. Mute, writer-director Duncan Jones’ self-described passion project which shares the same universe as his previous work Moon, is not even the first work this month that’s guilty of doing this (that would be Netflix’s original series, Altered Carbon), and it most certainly won’t be the last but it may be time for present and future filmmakers to start using their own imaginations to offer a more varied, if not wholly different, design and aesthetic.

    That major quibble aside, Mute’s strongest asset is very much its visuals and even then, the setting still feels like Blade Runner’s Los Angeles rather than Berlin despite all the sleazy neon and even sleazier narrative. Jones offers a bit of a twist by way of his main protagonist, named Leo who is both mute and Amish and whose romantic fatalism is played with a more optimistic chord by Alexander Skarsgård. Leo adheres to his Amish ways, which categorises him as an innocent, but there’s a violence within him that can be easily provoked, especially when it concerns Naadirah (Seyneb Saleh, who is comely and companionable enough, but doesn’t quite possess the allure to warrant Leo’s devotion), whom he loves truly, deeply, madly. He and Naadirah both work at a strip club named Foreign Dreams – he as a bartender, she as a waitress – and it becomes clear early on that whilst she loves him as much as he does her, she is keeping quite a lot of secrets from him, which he soon discovers when she goes missing.

    Peripheral yet parallel to this are the shady shenanigans of Cactus Bill (Paul Rudd) and Duck (Justin Theroux), two American ex-military surgeons running a black market operation. Cactus Bill, sporting an impressive Seventies porn moustache and garbed in an array of loud print shirts, is looking to get out of Berlin with his young daughter and is biding his time until he gets the proper paperwork. Duck, on the other hand, is more than happy to remain in the seedy city, where he has opportunities to indulge his paedophilic proclivities. Naturally, Leo will cross paths with them during his quest to uncover what’s happened to Naadirah but the connective tissue, whilst existent, somehow feels tenuous.

    In fact, the entirety of Mute is nebulous at best, the narrative but a skeletal framework for Leo to wander from place to place to show off the production team’s admittedly impressive but lazy work. One wishes for the no-holds-barred insanity of The Fifth Element or Jupiter Ascending; at least that go-for-broke attitude offsets the drudgery. Not so in Mute, which truly becomes more and more ponderous with each passing second. Not even the often amusing M*A*S*H-like rapport between Cactus Bill and Duck can distract, though it must be said that it’s heartening to see both Rudd and Theroux in change-of-pace characters.

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