Film Review: Mute

7 March 18 words: Fabrice Gagos

Moon director Duncan Jones' latest film has been critically panned after it's release on Netflix last month.  We went to see if it's actually as bad as everyone is saying...

Director: Duncan Jones

Starring: Alexander Skarsgård, Paul Rudd, Justin Theroux

Running Time: 126 mins

We’re in Berlin, approximately forty years in the future. Leo (Alexander Skarsgard), a mute Amish bartender, is looking for his girlfriend, Naadirah (Seyneb Saleh), who has gone missing during the night. His search leads him deep into the city's secrets as well as his girlfriend’s.

Mute should have been Jones' first feature film, and he suggested the script to Sam Rockwell for the role of Duck. But despite loving the script, Rockwell would have rather played Leo. As this didn’t fit with Jones' vision, he then wrote Moon specifically for Sam Rockwell. The rest is history.

When you finally see Mute, you understand why Rockwell, as talented an actor as he is, couldn't have played the role. Leo is a brute force of nature, a monster in a ‘Universal Classic’ way, like a modern Frankenstein creature. Or, even more, since water is so obviously his element, a creature from the Black Lagoon. Leo is not fit for this world; he's too big, too quiet, and too kind. And like any good movie monster, Leo is too human. He is only driven by his emotions, he has no agenda and no secrets, whilst everyone else, even Naadirah, appears to have a lot to hide.

Cactus Bill, played by the incredible Paul Rudd is soldier gone AWOL trying to get new identity papers for him and his daughter Josie, in order to get back to the US. For this he relies on Maksim, a local mobster and Leo's boss, working for him as a surgeon, helping to stitch up his goons. His partner, Duck (Justin Theroux) however, enjoys living in Berlin. He has served his full time in the army and runs a cybernetic clinic for children. He's a happy man, as he says to Cactus. A happy man indeed, but with a twist. Naturally, as the story unfolds, Leo's quest for truth is going to interfere with everyone's plans.

You can't help thinking about Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, but the comparison ends there

It is hard to talk about a movie like Mute without revealing too much of its story, as everything is in the detail. Each newspaper headline, each photograph on the wall has a meaning either in the context or in the story itself. Like its main character, the film doesn't tell you anything: it shows you. And it shows it well; the art direction, breathtaking for this kind of mid-budget movie, the colour palette, the storytelling, Clint Mansell's music, all combines to guide you through this universe but, like Leo, you'll have to put together all the parts of the puzzle by yourself.

Of course, you can't help thinking about Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, but the comparison ends there. In his interviews, Duncan Jones repeatedly states that Mute is a film noir which just happens to take place in a futuristic setting. The Future is merely a location, a visual background, and Mute could have been set anywhere and anytime else. Its themes are timeless and therefore not bound to the Sci-Fi genre.

That's probably why Mute has suffered such a critical backlash in almost all of its reviews. It isn’t a film that is going to give you what you expect, which probably leads people to miss the point. And that's fine. In a world where movies are more and more built to fit the audience's expectations, where taking risks is not part of the game anymore for the majority of studios, Netflix gives authors the liberty they lack otherwise. The results are more personal movies, which require that the audience adopt a more active role.

Mute is surely not going to please everybody. But for me, it's a new masterpiece from a director who manages to stay true to himself and make his own personal projects without concession. And that in itself makes it well worthy of being seen.

Did you know? David Hasselhoff is on the currency in the scene when Paul Rudd's character pays the babysitter.

Mute is available on Netflix now

Trailer

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