Director Duncan Jones (Moon, Warcraft) and Netflix combined forces to create Mute, a cyberpunk story about love, family, and sex robots. Mute continues the content creation machine for Netflix which recently premiered other genre films like Bright and The Cloverfield Paradox. Critics have mostly not been impressed with the streaming channel’s efforts. I still call it hit-or-miss. So, is Mute a screaming success or a choking hazard?
Okay, so let’s break down these opening five minutes.
Mute begins when an Amish family on a boat is trying to rescue their child from the water. The boy, Leo, was cut in the neck by the craft’s propeller. The family rushes Leo to the hospital where doctors save Leo’s life, but Leo’s mother refuses to let them completely fix his wounds, leaving the boy without the ability to speak. Leo grows up to become Alexander Skårsgard. Though mute, Leo lives life as a bartender in a strip club. The club is at the heart of a metropolis in 2050-something.
Okay, so let’s break down these opening five minutes. Leo is part of an Amish family that uses powerboats who also live somewhere in or around a cyberpunk landscape. The cyberpunk city of Mute is Berlin, and the transition from this already questionable “Amish” family to the future-city is not clever or astonishing. It just sort of happens and feels like an afterthought. The juxtaposition could be used to great effect, but the reveal is oddly off-putting.
As Mute moves forwards, it seems odd juxtapositions
is what director Duncan Jones was looking for.
Leo is in a relationship with Naadirah (Seyneb Saleh), a waitress at the same strip club. Leo doesn’t like the way a patron treats Naadirah, and it unleashes his violent tendencies. However, this patron is a gangster (Noel Clarke from Doctor Who!) and Leo has to stand down. The film attempts to establish Leo and Naadirah’s relationship because it’s vital to the plot. When Naadirah goes missing, Leo will do anything to find her.
As Mute moves forwards, it seems odd juxtapositions is what director Duncan Jones was looking for. Scene after scene the film flips and flops in tone. One minute we’re on a dreary street, the next inside a clean and pretty brothel. Another moment pulls back through a massive bowling alley, slowly revealing it’s immense size, then some futuristic bits, and ending with a nonplus dialogue scene. It all seems a waste of time and money as the shifts rarely serve any real purpose.
You may be familiar with the two actors just mentioned.
Time and again, the transitions like this just happen, and there’s no sense that it matters outside of some very mild shock value. The pullback through the bowling alley ends with Cactus Bill (Paul Rudd) and Duck Teddington (Justin Theroux). Ducky makes a pedophile-y joke leading to a moment in which Rudd is supposed to be menacing, but, it’s Paul Rudd, and the change in tone makes it hard to swallow.
You may be familiar with the two actors just mentioned. Veterans Rudd and Theroux play two lovers and ex-military doctors who perform underground surgeries for criminals because it’s easy money. Rudd has a daughter and is always looking for a babysitter while he earns enough money to leave Berlin. The actors do what they can with what they are given. But every scene between the pair feels like an entirely different movie.
It’s clear Jones was looking to shoot for the moon here.
With the recent release of Altered Carbon, another Blade Runner-inspired story on Netflix, it’s going to be impossible for people to resist comparing the two. Sadly, in a head-to-head battle, Altered Carbon wins by leaps and bounds. However, if there were a way to merge Jones’ visual craftsmanship and make Skarsgard the star of Altered Carbon, Netflix would have a mind-blowing franchise-to-be.
It’s amazing how old, tired, and trope-y cyberpunk feels yet the genre is light on content compared to things like fantasy or vampires or action science fiction. Both Mute and Altered Carbon are wanna-be Blade Runners that draw from that well until it’s bone dry. It seems no one wants to envision a high-tech future world that doesn’t look like it found a bottomless stash of 80s neon.
For the most part, critics are roasting Mute and with good reason.
The constant shifting between Cactus Bill and Leo finally comes together through a twist in the plot. A reveal near the end has some emotional punch, though it could’ve delivered with more impact had the build up throughout the film done the proper work. Additionally, the film suffers from ending 20 minutes before it’s over. After the demise of the antagonist, Mute continues … and continues. Mute needed a lot more script polishing or perhaps better work storyboarding how it all plays out.
It’s clear Jones was looking to shoot for the moon here. The ambition to create something unique is evident throughout. But everything hinges on the love between Leo and Naadirah which is simply not enough to hold it all together. Also, Leo is simply not a very interesting or compelling hero.
For the most part, critics are roasting Mute and with good reason. It’s just strange and wildly uninteresting. The pacing is lackluster. The story takes so long to get going that it doesn’t even matter once it starts. Jones said this was the spiritual sequel to Moon, the fantastic 2009 science fiction film that put him on the cinematic map. There’s a lot of love put into Mute, but something went wrong along the way. In the end, it feels more like the spirit of Moon is firmly still on our lone orbiting satellite and what came down in the form of Mute is just a heart-shaped box that’s empty inside.