Mute is the latest movie from Moon, Source Code and Warcraft director Duncan Jones and is set in Berlin 2058, starring Alexander Skarsgard as a mute, Amish bartender whose simple and peaceful life takes an unexpected turn when his girlfriend (portrayed by Seyneb Saleh) disappears overnight. This movie is a Netflix Original and also stars Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux.
Mute is a weird movie. It’s, at the same time, a spiritual successor/sequel to Jones’s Moon and a stand-alone, Blade Runner-esque mystery/thriller that has been in the works for 16 years. However, the reasons behind calling the movie weird have nothing to do with its production history or its relation to previous movies; it is simply weird as a movie. Jones makes weird directing and pacing decisions, the editing is strange, the plot and the way it unfolds is odd and while the movie is not without merit, what is good here is not enough to save it.
Let’s start with what I liked: The visuals. Visually, Mute is a gorgeous movie as Berlin is filled with neon signs, graffiti, weird technologies which are contrasted by the modern/traditional technology of today. Although there are some unflattering CGI elements, the movie was always interesting to look at, which helps a lot with the second positive point of the movie: World building and creating an atmosphere. The world of Mute is fascinating, not only in its weird technology and look, but also in its social state; Berlin is a city where there is heavy, American military presence and criminal organizations are seemingly everywhere. Moreover, the movie shows genderless people, a discrimination against people without technological enhancements, human-like robots; basically all the sci-fi tropes and themes movies like Mute have explored in the past, however I felt that Mute didn’t really explore them or question them in a meaningful way.
I felt similarly about the plot: A very straight-forward mystery that, overall, is quite good with some interesting and impactful twists and turns that take into account the satisfying character arks, the details and the reveals that are laid out during the 2 hour runtime. However, the pacing is quite strange; for long periods of time, nothing really happens. The story remains stuck for several parts of the movie, no new details or advancements in characters are made and the movie feels, for a large part of it, like it drags on for way too long; however I really liked the gimmick of the protagonist not only being mute-which harms his ability to interact with the world around him- but also being Amish, which means that the world he exists in is as strange to him as it is to us. Furthermore, it gives reason to his anger and passion to find his girlfriend, as everyone around him treats him like garbage and a big, bulky buffoon (because he won’t use technology to “fix” himself). There are some weird editing decisions as well, with characters looking towards something which then cuts to a different location, time and scene. This really harms the pace and the immersion of the viewer who’s trying to follow along. The one element of the movie that is perfect, is the casting of Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux; Paul Rudd plays a character very similar to his quick-talking, goofball characters he is known for, but here-instead of being likeable and endearing- he is a menacing asshole and the relationship between his character and that of Justin Theroux’s is simply brilliant and engaging to watch.
Alexander Skarsgard, is a different tale; he is fine for most of the movie, however there were scenes that he didn’t convey the emotions of his character well enough. His role was a challenging one-for any actor- as he had to convey a complex character through body language and facial expressions alone, and he does a good enough job for the most part, but there were parts where he wasn’t up to the task, which left me feeling that the role was somewhat miscast.
All in all, Mute is not a bad movie. It has some interesting ideas, a good visual style, a director who knows how to pull off such a style and build the world that the movie takes place in, a solid story that features well written characters and a mystery that is engaging. Some weird choices in editing and pacing harm the movie a great deal, however there is still enough good parts that save the movie from being a train wreck. However, even in Duncan Jones’s own filmography, you will find better options for a mind-bending and thoughtful sci-fi tale. Thus, Mute is not a failure as a movie, but it fails to give viewers a good enough reason to choose it over other similar movies. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eventually see it, and it certainly does not mean you won’t enjoy yourself when you do; it just means that if you are thirsty for a thoughtful, sci-fi tale there are many better options out there.