More noise than signal


Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

As part of the Amish community, there’s many dangers to contend with, their technology averse lifestyle of course making them highly susceptible to the kind of powerboat related accident that befalls a young Leo, as with so many before him. Sustaining wounds to his neck, he survives, but is rendered mute. Hence, I suppose, the title of Duncan Jones’ latest film, and long standing passion project.

An older Leo, played by Alexander Skarsgård finds himself working as a bartender in a nightclub in near future Berlin. His quiet life contrasts with the bustle of the city, but some liveliness is provided by his co-worker and girlfriend Naadirah (Seyneb Saleh). Things seem to be going swimmingly, until Naadirah says that she’s not been entirely honest about her past. Before any salient details can be extracted though, she disappears.

Seemingly unrelatedly, their boss and underworld kingpin Maksim take a goon to the local black market medical facility, staffed by ex-U.S.A military surgeons Cactus Bill (Paul Rudd) and Duck (Justin Theroux). Turns out that they’re on the lam from the military police, deserters from some hinted at war that I presume isn’t going well, with Bill in particular working for Maksim to earn fake papers for himself and his daughter Josie to get out of the city. Duck, however, seems quite happy to stay, running his sideline of fitting cybernetics to young children, for, it is eventually revealed, all the wrong reasons.

Leo starts investigating the disappearance, which will bring him into conflict with all of the above, and indeed a bunch of others in the Berlin underworld that I’ll skip over party for brevity, and partly because a fortnight after watching this, I have no memory whatsoever of those intervening stages were, or, indeed, why I was supposed to care about any of it.

Saying Mute wears its influences on its sleeve would be an understatement – Mute has, in fact, clubbed Blade Runner over the head, dragged it back to a disused industrial unit, skinned it, and is now wearing that skin as a suit. And has then written “I am fond of Blade Runner‘s aesthetic” on the sleeve of that skinsuit, just to avoid any confusion. Sometimes that works pretty spectacularly – not on the same level as Blade Runner 2049, but there’s some scenes that are in the ballpark at least – but there’s more than a few scenes that undercut this by simply being Berlin with bad haircuts and more neon lighting than you’d expect.

Visuals, and indeed soundtrack aside (hello Clint Mansell), the rest of Mute is, unfortunately, a bit of a misfire, at levels where it ought not to be misfiring. This is, we’re told, an idea Jones has been cultivating for years now, so why it’s so pedestrian is bewildering. There’s plot developments doled out at the appropriate pacing, but none of them are particularly interesting. In the end, it’s so busy following the thread of whodunnit that it never stops to consider in the slightest whydunnit, or indeed plausible character motivation for pretty much anyone in the film.

On the general subject of “what”, why this particular paedophilia angle was inserted in the first place, or survived any pass of editing, is a mystery for the ages, and only adds an air of creepiness to an already far too muddled film.

The performances are, I suppose, in isolation, fine. Skarsgård does okay, and when called into action his physicality works effectively, but there’s no opportunity to evidence much subtlety which would be needed to build enough sympathy to care about his character. Much as I like Justin Theroux, his character here just ought not to be, and on reflection Paul Rudd gives a decent performance, he’s cast so against type that, unfortunately, it’s just not possible to take him seriously as the credible threat the film needs if there’s to be any of the tension it hopes to build.

I am not, by nature, prone to believing in conspiracy theories. I suppose that’s just the chemtrails doing their job. However, I’m starting to believe there may be one when critics are reviewing a Netflix Original. I’m certainly not saying Mute is a work of genius, or even that it succeeds in doing even half of what it’s set out to do, but worse than The Cloverfield Paradox it is not, by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve seen many worse, better reviewed films in cinemas, but I wonder if part of that review calculus takes into consideration how few people will need critics when a film is already available to them without leaving the comfort of their sofas?

However, for evidence of a critic cartel curtailing commendations, we’ll need some better films that are bounded by the qualities of BrightCloverfield Paradox, and MuteBright was mediocre at best, and I suppose there’s some “so dreadful it’s good” qualities to Cloverfield Pardox that makes it a watchable film, but it is hot garbage. Sadly, too often Mute is “so average, it’s average”, which makes it very hard to hold interest in, regardless of how pretty it looks. It’s not an experience I’d recommend anyone partake in.