The following is a review of the Netflix Original Film MUTE — Directed by Duncan Jones.
Duncan Jones’ fourth feature film MUTE, which is dedicated to his late father David Bowie and his late nanny Marion Skene, is a science-fiction film in the vein of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. It tells the story of a search for a missing person in the melting pot of a futuristic and dirty Berlin, which, in true Blade Runner fashion, is bathed in neon lights and bluish colors. The film’s protagonist is an unlikely outsider — a tall and mute bartender named Leo (played by Alexander Skarsgård) who lost the ability to speak as a child in a violent motorboat propellor accident.
In MUTE, Leo is looking for his blue-haired girlfriend, Naadirah (played by Seyneb Saleh), and his search for her takes him all over the dirty streets of future Berlin — from the strip club at which he works and into the path of two strange American surgeons. One of these Americans is the comically mustached and foul-mouthed Cactus Bill and the other is the blond-haired and bespectacled creep named Duck (played by Justin Theroux). Their story is one that deals with themes such as parenthood and toxic friendships.
Duncan Jones is one of those filmmakers you actively root for, and, let me specify, it is not because of who his father is. Jones is an ambitious filmmaker who has previously worked wonders with science-fiction stories in his first two films Moon and Source Code, but also a filmmaker who might’ve bit off more than he could chew with the colossal undertaking that Warcraft — based on the hit video game series of the same name — proved to be.
If you are anything like me, then you want to see these types of ambitious genre-focused filmmakers succeed, which is why it pains me to say that Duncan Jones’ MUTE is a disastrous Blade Runner-clone. It started off interestingly with this idea that Leo — the aforementioned bartender — has Amish roots, which is the ultimate reason why he hasn’t had his voice fixed. It’s an interesting backstory twist to the mute character that, however, isn’t dealt with to a satisfying extent.
Although he wears Amish-like clothing and though we do see his family in a brief opening flashback, that is pretty much all we get about Leo whose tall and handsome Scandinavian look is not enough to make this outsider all that interesting to watch. Skarsgård, who recently found great success in HBO’s Big Little Lies, is quite uncompelling in MUTE, in which he and his character’s girlfriend share far too few scenes together. In general, it would’ve been nice to see Seyneb Saleh — the actress who plays Leo’s girlfriend — in more scenes.
Skarsgård finds no success in carrying this film, and he is ultimately outshone by the two actors playing the wacky Americans. Of course, Skarsgård has an added obstacle to overcome in that his character is unable to speak, but I found his performance to be decidedly dull and unmoving. Skarsgård is not a bad actor, but he is unable to make this bland character memorable or interesting in any way, shape, or form.
Paul Rudd, playing Cactus Bill, finds more success in a role that he might have even been miscast for. He has this odd American accent that feels fabricated coming out of Rudd’s mouth, especially when paired with the words that are coming out of his mouth. In spite of all of this, Rudd does a good job with his character, and were it not for him, then his character’s ‘partner’ might’ve made me turn off the film. I would go as far as to say that the visuals, some of the world-building, and Paul Rudd’s performance are the best things about this unfortunate final product.
But let’s talk about this creep named Duck that is so off-putting that I think a lot of people will want to exit out of this film faster than Duck can say “Babe,” which is said so often that it almost becomes a catchphrase out of which you could probably build a halfway decent drinking game. While I’m a big fan of Justin Theroux’s previous work, his is a particularly sickening character who makes disgusting comments about underage women and who is a potentially dangerous friend for Cactus Bill to entertain, as Bill also has to care for his young daughter.
Duck will absolutely make you uncomfortable at multiple points in the film, including one scene where he puts a song on and adds mood lighting as he dances around with a young patient. I think Duncan Jones previously has made comments to suggest that MUTE would be challenging and dark, but Duck is such a needlessly vile character that I just don’t see the point of having in the film. His subplot might be intended to function as commentary on toxic friendships, but, all in all, I don’t think MUTE has much new to say, really.
I’m sure that there will be some fans of the filmmaker who will be able to shrug off the issues they have with the film, because they quite enjoyed some of MUTE‘s easter eggs that reference Jones’ first film. It gives me absolutely no pleasure to type out this harsh review, but, for me, MUTE really is an off-putting and uninteresting disappointment.
4.5 out of 10
– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen