Mute, co-written and directed by Duncan Jones, is a horrendously unpleasant mess. There seemed to be an onslaught of ideas that Jones had for this film and rather than choose the best ones, he just forced them all in and hoped they’d gel with one another. Instead what you get is a film that feels off-balance and directionless from the beginning and throughout. This now marks the third major Netflix film (the other two being, Bright and The Cloverfield Paradox) where I have found myself desperately wanting it to end. Much like watching Mute, reviewing it is going to be a chore, as I will struggle to find anything positive to say about it. Let’s get to the public execution… uh I mean, review.
After his girlfriend, Naadirah – played by Seyneb Saleh – goes missing, Leo – played by Alexander Skarsgård – desperately searches for answers as to what happened to her and where she might be. That task will be even more difficult as Leo is mute (caused by an accident that happened when he was young which saw him lose the ability to speak). He will come up against all sorts of unpleasant individuals in his search for the only person that matters to him.
It’s not often that I feel a constant want to turn a film off and no longer have to watch it. Even the films I mentioned above; I didn’t find myself considering exiting out of the film. But Mute was a genuine chore to get thorough. When I moved the mouse and saw I still had 46 minutes left (despite feeling like I had watched close to 2 hours by that point) the audible disappointment spoke to how much I wasn’t enjoying the film. It was only because I had chosen to review the film that I stuck with it, and now here we are.
There was a sole element in this film that I liked and that was, Alexander Skarsgård’s performance and elements of his character. In the beginning, he really had the chance to stretch his acting muscles and show to me that there’s more than just the pretty boy exterior. Due to his character being a mute, Skarsgård had to rely on physically communicating his state of mind and it really showed to me how good of an actor he is. So much was communicated through his eyes. There was a well of emotion and expression solely in them. I was excited to see a film that was going to commit so much time to a character like Leo, who is more than just a mute person, and an actor who was clearly giving it his all. But as you can probably guess from my previous comments; that excitement didn’t last long (this was no Sally Hawkins and her enchanting work in the best picture winner, The Shape of Water, that’s for sure).
Leo came the closest to being an interesting character, but the lack of development or focus given to him meant he quickly became as uninteresting as the rest. In the beginning we learn some intriguing little tidbits about him, but they never grow beyond that. Those minor characteristics end up being everything, and going forth he is simply a tool for pushing forward the plot – a plot that I never cared about. Had the film taken the time to make Leo more of a focal point and developed and explored more of who he was, I think it would have gone a long way towards rescuing this film. Following a person around who you don’t care about and not taking advantage of their unique circumstances, which within a world that seems to have left him behind, is such a massive failing on the films part. Leo could have been someone who pulled you in and made you care, but he became like everything else; unpleasant or uninteresting set dressing.
Instead of Leo, we get characters like, Cactus Bill – played by Paul Rudd – who got a shocking amount of screen time compared to Leo. Here’s the thing: I really like Paul Rudd; he’s a great comedic actor and I’m interested in seeing him branch out into dramatic roles, but he’s unbearable in this film. Now, I think much of the blame is not on Rudd himself but instead on the character he plays and the writing of him. Cactus Bill is an aggressively unlikeable character (the same could actually be said for nearly every character that appears in the film) and the more he was on-screen, the less I wanted to see/hear him. But unfortunately, he takes up a lot of the film and becomes its primary focus after a while. He does horrible things, he never has a line of dialogue that is funny or meaningful. He runs around spouting hateful things and was someone who I forever wished wasn’t on my screen. He even forgives the acts of another character that are grossly unforgiveable – acts the film seems to revel in.
The character of Duck – played by Justin Therouox – is a vile individual whose treatment by the film is disturbingly kind and almost forgiving. Again, I love Justin Theroux as an actor – his work on the TV series, The Leftovers is incredible – and again I don’t think the blame can fully be placed on him. It’s a situation where the writing of the character and the handling of him is unforgivable. Duck is a paedophile. I know I don’t even need to go into detail as to why that is not a pleasant thing to watch. But what I couldn’t wrap my head around (nor did I want to) was why the film seemed to barely care about it. The actions of the character go largely unchecked and it treats it like it’s not that big of a deal. His inevitable comeuppance feels wholly unsatisfying; especially because I sat through his disgusting scenes with the hopes that he would face unimaginable suffering. But nope. Much like everything else in Mute, it just breezes by it and doesn’t have the capability or understanding of how to properly approach it.
That factor alone makes this film a horrendous watch, and it’s made even worse by the fact that the film itself just isn’t that well made. Its story is unbelievably dull and so unengaging that I sat there with my head slumped in my hand. To say it is boring would be an understatement. The connection between Leo and Naadirah is so paper-thin, that it only lessened the effectiveness of the plot. I didn’t invest or care about their relationship when it was playing out in front of me, so I was never going to care when Leo was desperately searching for her.
And the aspect of the film that I found to be surprisingly bland: was its setting. A neo-clad Berlin, set sometime in the future, seems like a location that is rich in visually interesting ideas. Instead there was a continuously inconsistent visual aesthetic, and a cheapness that made everything look fake. The Netflix exclusive show, Altered Carbon blows this film out of the water, when it comes to a visually enticing sets and locations.
To continue bashing this film, at this point feels unfair and unnecessary. I personally don’t want to write about it or think about it anymore. I’m someone who absolutely adores cinema. I specifically started this blog as an outlet for my love of it – a place for me to share my thoughts and opinions. So, to sit here and speak so negatively about a film is never something I enjoy doing. I want to celebrate films. I want to try to find the good in them and share that – talk about that. But with Mute, I just can’t bring myself to talk about it in any other way but how I have.
I love Duncan Jones’s previous films; Moon of course being my favourite (the attempt to connect Moon and Mute and have them set in the same universe only saddened me, as now that film is in some way tainted by this one). I enjoyed Source Code and I didn’t mind Warcraft that much (it wasn’t a good film, but it was okay). So, it really hurts to see this apparent passion project turn out to be such a horrible mess.
I DO NOT recommend, Mute. This film is repulsive, bland, and at no point worth your time. Even with it being so easily available on Netflix, still don’t let that sway you into watching it. I would rather watch, The Cloverfield Paradox again than watch this. That should say it all.
What are your thoughts on Mute and my review of it? Let me know in the comments section down below. Feel free to follow both my blog and Twitter – @GavinsRamblings – to know when I post something new. I’ll bring things to a close now by thanking you for taking the time to read my review, and I hope you have a fantastic day!