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Mute: A Dystopian Wasteland of Good Ideas

Mute Netflix
Photo Credit: Netflix

Mute Plot Summary:

Leo (Alexander Skarsgard) navigates the seedy underworld of a near-future Berlin to find out what happened to his girlfriend, while an AWOL soldier named Cactus Bill (Paul Rudd) works as an underground surgeon to get him and his daughter back home.

When a director comes out with a long incubating passion project, it’s always a coin flip how it turns out. Sometimes it ends up a true masterpiece, a culmination of the talent and vision they’ve accumulated over the course of their career. Other times it turns out to be a bloated mess, an early idea they would have been better off shelving rather than holding onto for so long.

With both the transcendent Moon and the unfortunate Warcraft under his belt, it seemed like either result could have been possible for director Duncan Jones and his movie Mute, a Schroedinger’s Film that could only be determined once it was finally seen. Sadly, this particular coin flip has not come up in Jones’ favor this time.

Mute is the story of Leo, an Amish man living in Berlin with his girlfriend Naadirah (Seyneb Saleh) and his quest to find out what happened to her when she mysteriously disappears. At the same time, it follows the story of Cactus Bill, a deserting US soldier working for a crime boss in hopes of getting the papers that will let him go home. Their stories intertwine as the noir-ish mystery unfolds and Leo descends further into the criminal underworld he had no idea Naadirah was involved in.

Anyone who has seen a cyberpunk movie, or really any noir or neo-noir, will likely find this premise a little familiar. Indeed, the story is often very derivative, tracing the steps of many mysteries that have come before. But its understanding of how to effectively construct that mystery is muddled, at best.

It’s difficult to follow the logic of Leo’s leads as he bounces from location to location, and harder still to understand the motives of the characters. Cactus Bill in particular swings wildly between moods as the movie goes on: one second he’s an abrasive jerk, another filled with righteous anger, and yet another an unhinged psychopath. None of this feels directed or intentional, but rather a frenetic and inconsistently written character held together only by Paul Rudd’s considerable charms.

The story is not the only place that suffers from a real lack of originality. The movie evokes a dystopian cyberpunk world, imagining a future filled with flashing neon technology and riddled with corruption and crime. To its credit, there is some real inventiveness behind many of the details, slick futuristic tech and neon visuals that are easy to get absorbed in. But beneath it there’s only a knock-off Blade Runner, Mute’s Berlin reduced to a generic, only sporadically German city with almost no sense of place. It’s a loving recreation of the style kicked off by Ridley Scott’s 1982 masterpiece, but there’s nothing new there, no statement or vision behind it to make it more than an imitation.

And that’s the problem with the movie as a whole. There is a certain lack of intent that makes it feel meandering and pointless. As a genre, cyberpunk is one of the most loudly and pointedly political critiques out there, and yet Mute seems to ape the style without having anything to say.

There are some good ideas floating around in there, things that could easily have emerged as themes: the way the evolution of technology thoughtlessly excludes the disabled, how parenthood can drive us to both heroic and terrible things, the impossibility of truly disconnecting yourself from technology in modern society. Yet it never really lingers on any of these, preferring to languish in stale tropes only sporadically enlivened by surprisingly game performances by Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux as Cactus Bill’s old war buddy and surgery partner. The result is a movie that ultimately feels hollow, no matter how much it tries to be otherwise.

In a lot of ways, Mute most resembles someone’s early effort, the thing that you make when you know what kind of movie you love but haven’t yet learned how to effectively create your own version of it. Perhaps this is a result of it being a longstanding project for Duncan Jones; we can only really speculate. But despite the prodigious talent he has displayed in the past, there is really only enough good in Mute to make it bitterly disappointing that it isn’t better. Unfocused, hard to follow, plagued with wooden acting, it is difficult to claim that it is worth sifting through for those few gems of quality hidden underneath.

Unless you are so fanatically committed to the Blade Runner style visual aesthetic that you will seek out good examples wherever you can find them, you’d be better off skipping this one.

Rating: 3 out of 10

Mute is currently streaming on Netflix.

Chris Diggins
Chris Digginshttps://alittleperspective.substack.com
"Lord" Chris Diggins, "Grand Prognosticator of ThePopBreak.com" is a staff writer and incorrigible layabout for The Pop Break. He usually reviews TV and movies, although he sometimes writes ludicrously long pieces of critical analysis and badgers the editors to publish it. He cannot be stopped.

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