Alexander Skarsgard stars as Leo in Duncan Jones’ new film Mute.
In 2009, a small film called Moon was released by Duncan Jones, the son of the famous David Bowie. It was Jones’ debut film and starred recent Oscar Winner Sam Rockwell as an astronaut on the moon in the near future.
Moon was revered by critics, and it’s one of the most interesting science fiction films of the 21st century. Jones’ next film was the Jake Gyllenhaal-led Source Code, which was also met with positive reviews, so it was safe to say that the bar that Jones had established for himself was pretty high.
Unfortunately, Jones’ most recent outputs have not only lagged behind Moon and Source Code, but also have made the success of those two films look like a fluke. First it was with Warcraft, based on the video game, and now with his new Netflix original film in Mute.
Mute stars Alexander Skarsgård, Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux. The story follows our main character Leo (Skarsgård), who is mute and looking for his girlfriend, Naadirah (played by Seyneb Saleh), who has gone missing. Along the way, Leo meets Bill (Rudd) and Duck (Theroux) who are best friends that want to escape their duty as U.S. soldiers.
The film makes giant leaps into how these characters are intertwined, and how they are all somewhat useful to one another.
In reality, the connections that are made seem incredibly misplaced. Each character’s story arc is mishandled, not to mention that their motivations make no sense whatsoever and at times make you wonder how this got approved by a studio.
Not falling far behind are the performances by the cast members. Skarsgård has received acclaim for his role as Perry Wright in the fantastic Big Little Lies. However, part of what made his character work was that he wasn’t the lead, and his rapid change in tone aided his stoic demeanor.
However in Mute, Skarsgård’s character is handicapped and doesn’t allow him to use his voice to his own advantage. Not to mention the fact that Skarsgård’s lack of charisma only further hinders Leo as a character. Additionally, Leo’s muteness is irrelevant to the story, it’s really just there to attempt to make it harder to find his beloved Naadirah and make him all the more strange.
Meanwhile, Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux do the best that they can with characters that are written to be creepy assholes who are indebted as they try to get away from a U.S. Army that can’t seem to stop going into war.
Rudd is naturally charismatic and even makes the creepy mustache work. Theroux on the other hand plays an incredibly over-the-top surgeon who is more creepy than charismatic. However, the script doesn’t allow much more depth for his character.
It’s worth mentioning that this film is set in futuristic Berlin. If you saw a still from the film you’d think it was set in the same universe; however, upon further inspection it’s clear that one is a bargain brand version of the other. The foreground and background don’t match-up, often looking as if they ran out of cash to refine the background.
It’s incredibly surprising for a film that was funded by Netflix to look how this one does: sterile and like it was a made for TV. The only positive thing that I can pinpoint for this film is that we get to see Rockwell’s character from Moon in a cameo that is equal parts funny and out of place.
Maybe that’s why Netflix should be seen with a bit of caution: Sure it provides opportunities for directors to pursue their passion projects, i.e. Mute and small-possible-box office failure films (The Cloverfield Paradox), but how much credit can we give to a company that puts out one good film for every 10?
The next film funded by Netflix from a noticeable director that comes to mind is Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, which just finished principal photography and will now be in the editing room for at least a year — so we just have to wait to find an answer to that question.
All in all, Mute is a film that doesn’t deserve to be two hours nor is it bad enough to warrant a hate-watch. Watch the much more interesting Moon or give the Oscar-Nominated Mudbound a shot. Honestly, anything but watching this is a better use of your time.