Cast: Alexander Skarsgard, Paul Rudd, Justin Theroux, Seyneb Saleh
Director: Duncan Jones
Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes: Berlin, the future, but close enough to feel familiar: In this loud, often brutal city, Leo (Alexander Skarsgård) – unable to speak from a childhood accident – searches for his missing girlfriend, the love of his life, his salvation, through dark streets, frenzied plazas, and the full spectrum of the cities shadow-dwellers. As he seeks answers, Leo finds himself mixed up with Cactus Bill (Paul Rudd) and Duck (Justin Theroux), a pair of irreverent US army surgeons on a mission all their own. This soulful sci-fi journey from filmmaker Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code, Warcraft) imagines a world of strange currencies in which echoes of love and humanity are still worth listening to.
In 2017, we saw the emergence of beautiful sci-fi cinematography from Blade Runner: 2049 and a groundbreaking physical performance from Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water as a mute character, so in 2018 I hoped those trends would continue. Mute’s subject matter and lead role contribute directly to these ideas, so this naturally one would expect it to be in the same league as those two movies. Sadly, due to its lackluster performances and messy plotline, Mute shows us how you can take these themes and mess them when up when you do not have a clear direction.
The film centers around Leo (Skarsgard), a mute bartender who goes looking for his missing girlfriend Naadirah (Saleh), who is missing in a futuristic dystopian Berlin. As he searches for her, he discovers things about her that he did not know and has to deal with the consequences of her actions. Starting with Skarsgard’s performance, it is very hard to understand his thought process since he has no dialogue during any of his high-tension scenes. I cannot help to look at the contrast between Skarsgard and Sally Hawkins, and the reasons why one performance was so successful while the other was incredibly underwhelming. I think this is due to Hawkins giving a much more physical performance and expressing her emotions better, while Skarsgard is stone-faced the entire time and makes it difficult for us to understand what he is feeling in those scenes. This is not helped by the fact that the story is all over the place. The film switches between Leo’s storyline over to Cactus Bill (Rudd) and Duck (Theroux), two friends who are surgeons for the mob. Bill wants to take his family and leave Berlin while Duck is content with his life in Berlin. The movie tries to intertwine these storylines with Leo’s, but it ends up not making much sense. They take minor interactions between main characters and supporting characters and try to make these moments way bigger than they are. Much of the plot depends on moments that rely on a huge leap in logic and requires main characters making decisions that are nonsense. I also thought that the dynamic between Bill and Duck is strange, as they transition from best friends to acts of violence in a moment’s notice. I do not like movies that have the plot line up in a ridiculous but convenient manner, and Mute does that through the dynamics between the three main characters. Moving on to something I think the film does well, the color and cinematography are reminiscent of scenes in Blade Runner, which is always a pleasant thing to see. While not as groundbreaking, the films that came before it, Mute still contains a nice array of cool neon colors and dark shadowy lighting to emphasize the power of wealth in this world, but also the grief of the poverty. One thing in particular that I enjoyed about the environment is that they had a scene that occurred during the daytime. It is very rare to see a movie like this have a scene while the sun is out, so I appreciated that this movie added something new to the genre.
Overall, while the cinematography was pretty, it is not enough to make up for the poor acting and a confusing story. Rudd does his best and brings his usual level of charisma, but he can only do so much with the material he was given. Considering that this is supposed to be a spiritual successor to Moon I do not know what caused the steep drop in quality between the two. There are rumors of a third film in the works, and I hope for the sake of quality that the issues from Mute are fixed in the next iteration.
Overall Score: 2/10