Written by Michael Robert Johnson and Duncan Jones and directed by Jones, “Mute” is a futuristic sci-fi neo-noir that follows Leo (Alexander Skarsgård) a mute Amish man living in Berlin some forty years in the future as he searches for his missing girlfriend Naadirah (Seyneb Saleh). This is Jones’ fourth feature, but his first to be released through Netflix, which gives me even less of a good reason to have missed it until now. However, that being said, the film seemed to have been mired in a quagmire of sour reviews upon its release and I was perplexed by this given the enticing trailers. The film looked to be a unique take on the Blade Runner format with a few twists and turns of its own. After giving it a watch, I can see where some complaints make sense, but overall I enjoyed the film as a whole.
There are several aspects of the film that stand out to me and what save it from getting too bogged down for its own good. The casting was a unique array of actors but the most worrisome of the bunch was Paul Rudd and whether or not he’d be able to deliver a compelling, and convincing, villain. A villainous turn may have seemed antithetical to most of Rudd’s past work, but his role as Cactus Bill turned out to be my favorite part of the movie. He portrays a nasty, rude, and entitled American soldier that went A.W.O.L. after a recent war in Berlin. Cactus Bill is volatile and unsettling at moments, but he’s also a father figure throughout the movie carting around his young daughter as he goes about trying to illegally obtain new passports and IDs to get out of town. His partner in crime is Justin Theroux’s ‘Duck’ the inverse of Cactus Bill. Duck speaks softly and wears outdated professor-marketed wool sweaters, but he too shares a darker identity that becomes more visible as the film goes on. Both are former military surgeons that work in tandem with Russian (I assume) mafia figures needing to be stitched up. These two garner a hefty amount of the plot and a lot of the attention away from Skarsgård’s Leo, luckily they earn their screentime.
Speaking of Leo, his anchor in this story is formed based on his upbringing and the beliefs of his family that led to his muteness. After a tragic boating accident that shredded his vocal chords, Leo’s mother declined surgery citing that Only God can help him now, and thus we have our voiceless hero. Fast forward to Leo’s adult life as a bartender in a shady club run by criminals and we see the different shades of his life folding in on one another. Naadirah also works at the club where we witness Leo’s righteous wrath on several patrons after they crudely harass her. His stoicism and height lend to this handling of justice, however his occupation does not. Put on the bench by his superiors Leo steps back as tries to keep his life with Naadirah safe. Therefore, she disappears a few scenes later and Leo kickstarts his detective storyline as he desperately tries to track her down. The other idea in the story that stayed with me after the movie was the idea of an Amish man living in the futuristic world of Neo Berlin. The film did a good job of making his life in this world feel authentic, his apartment and his mannerisms play into that idea efficiently.
There are some rough edges to this film though. The meshing of storylines between Leo’s quest to find Naadirah and Cactus Bill’s journey to escape Berlin isn’t always smooth. Ultimately the two storylines end up being far more linked than expected, but the atmosphere and feel of them isn’t as cohesive as it could have been. There’s also a scene in the third act that’s built up as something that could be more than what it ends up being, and it’s simply anticlimactic, which is a bit of a bummer. The film also goes on for about twenty minutes, or so, longer than I feel it needs to. It lingers longer than is needed and somewhat overstays its welcome because of this. Though if you’ve seen Duncan Jones’ first film “Moon” there are several entertaining cameos by Sam Rockwell’s Sam Bell on Television in the background of some scenes, there’s even a few recurring graffiti images of Bell throughout Berlin’s streets.
“Mute” is a good time in the end, even with a few uneven sides. It’s nowhere near as bad as the majority of reviews seem to have deemed it, I suggest giving it a watch if only to see Paul Rudd’s rare villainous appearance.
Final Score: 2 criminal surgeons and 1 good ole fashioned Amish beat down
“Mute” is currently available on Netflix.