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.


  • 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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  • “Why the hell can’t he talk anyway?
    It’s complicated.
    It’s his mother’s fault.
    He needs surgery.
    It’s against her beliefs.”

    Fortunately, Alexander Skarsgård isn’t by nature a voiceless person. It would have been a strange sight him appearing in “The Legend of Tarzan“. Swinging around with his mouth wide open. But no sound that cuts through the jungle so everyone could hear that well-known primal cry. In “Mute” he’s such a person with no sound leaving his mouth. And that because of a painful confrontation with the propeller of a motorboat (I suppose). What remains is a guy with the body of Tarzan and whose communication capacity is similar to that of Tarzan. Pretty flawed.

    Judging by the futuristic scenery, you’d expect a decent science fiction. It’s situated in a fictional environment, namely future Berlin. The images remind you a lot of “Blade Runner“. You’ll see an enormous amount of neon lighting, holographic screens, futuristic vehicles flying around and a multitude of digital machines. Berlin is a screamy, noisy big city full of dark figures and practices. In this city, Leo (Alexander Skarsgård) is a barman of some nightclub where his blue-haired girlfriend Naadira (Seyneb Saleh) works as a waitress. A mysterious lady with a hitherto unspoken (no pun intended) secret. And the moment she wants to tell Leo about it, she suddenly disappears. And that’s when Leo hangs his barman outfit on the coat rack and transforms into a futuristic, taciturn Sherlock.

    Are you expecting to see a “Blade Runner“-like SF with runaway androids or artificial intelligent machines that want to conquer future society, you’ll be slightly disappointed. The actual story in “Mute” is nothing more than a kind of detective story with some very bizarre twists and colorful figures. The two American doctors Leo is running into all the time, are a strange couple. Both their appearance (such as the walrus mustache of Paul Rudd and hawaiian shirts) and their names. Two doctors who listen to the names Cactus and Duck. Who made that up? And also these two surgeons work in an unhygienic looking cellar where they patch up members of the mafia (to obtain a passport to leave Germany). They look as if they’ve just worked in a field hospital during the Vietnam War. And lets not start about Duck’s (Justin Theroux) perverse characteristic.

    To be honest, I found the moments these two weirdos turn up, the most interesting. On the one hand it felt rather comical. On the other hand, it was also quite controversial. It’s kind of obvious both storylines of the physicians and that of the searching Leo would meet somewhere ultimately. But in the end, this is actually the least interesting part of the entire film. It’s the framework and the way the movie is imaged that fascinates. The staging and characters form a colorful whole. The future prostitution network looks very otherworldly after seeing a person dressed up as a geisha (with smeared make-up), in a bizarre interior where two robots (with extreme-looking sex attributes) are displayed in an explicit way on the bed.

    Still, I was wondering if all those different stylistic interventions were necessary. Why did the main character have to be mute? Not just so they could justify the movie title? And why that futuristic appearance? Granted, if you leave out that part, there isn’t much left to marvel at. And the most negative is the duration of the movie. That wouldn’t matter, if there were more fascinating elements to see. Even though a few wellknown names played in it (And let’s face it, Tarzan and Ant-man in one and the same film sounds awesome), I thought it was only a mediocre film. Perhaps Duncan Jones, son of the artistically gifted David Bowie, is stubbornly working on a quirky trajectory as a director. And just like his father, in the future this could bear fruit.

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