Mute Review: Familiar yet unique

Photo Credit: Mute/Netflix Image Acquired from Netflix Media Center
Photo Credit: Mute/Netflix Image Acquired from Netflix Media Center /

Mute is a futuristic film noir, which has all the makings of a cult film. Duncan Jones returns to the world he created in his 2009 feature film debut, Moon. Starring Alexander Skarsgård as a mute bartender looking for his missing girlfriend, he sets out on a journey through the underbelly of future Berlin.

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It is going to be hard for me to write this review without first touching on the obvious. Firstly, this isn’t as good as Moon. Secondly, Netflix needs to sort out a theatrical release model. Thirdly, Mute does not deserve any of the hate that some critics have thrown at it. Finally, whilst not wholly original (to be fair, what is?) Mute draws on its influences, wears them on its sleeve and proudly shows you a story worth telling.

This was one of my most anticipated films of 2018. Moon was a brilliant debut, Source Code was a thrilling follow-up, and even the financial and critical disappointment of Warcraft couldn’t stop me from liking it (still awaiting on a sequel). Duncan Jones is undoubtedly a talented filmmaker, and Mute is a project he has been wanting to realise since way before his 2009 debut. And it shows. This is a passion project, and the fact it had to be Netflix to help release it (with the BFI helping out with production costs) shows that these kinds of projects don’t get enough traction in the filmmaking world.

The mute bartender Leo, played by Alexander Skarsgård, is vulnerable. His silence is an effective tool for us to feel sympathy towards him. His outlook on the world is at odds with the surroundings of a 2058 Berlin. The scenes that Skarsgård shares with newcomer Seyneb Saleh (his missing girlfriend Naadirah) are transfixing. Their chemistry feels true. Their love hits you where it hurts; you can see the pure emotion on Leo’s face, a testament to Alexander Skarsgård’s performance.

The other two main characters, Cactus and Duck (played by Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux respectively), have the other main segments of the film. These aren’t sympathetic characters, but the casting of the likeable faces of Rudd and Theroux messes with your assumptions. They are complicated, seedy, disgusting, yet have their own love that they share and wear on the surface.

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The neon-lit backdrops, superbly shot by cinematographer Gary Shaw, recalls the iconography of Blade Runner. The themes of old and new are played alongside one another really effectively by Duncan Jones. The iconography of Blade Runner and Casablanca (check out this poster), combined with Paul Schrader’s nihilistic Hardcore, make Mute something similar yet fascinating.

Clint Mansell’s score isn’t quite as iconic as his work on Moon, but if/when the score gets a commercial release this will be considered as masterful as to what has come before. There are also nice little audio cues that recall Bowie, and samples from the music world, which are brilliantly unique. I thoroughly recommend this post on Clint Mansell’s influences on creating his score.

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I can understand why people dislike this. It feels long, its characters are mostly unsympathetic, and it can be deemed to be too similar to most films that have come before. One could argue that some sequences could be cut, shortened or written better, but it is not the creative failure most commentators would have you assume.

Moon is a throwback to the aesthetics of Outland, Silent Running, and Alien. This is a throwback to Blade Runner, to the neon-lit future that filmmakers and writers have aspired the human race to go towards. Yet Mute is nihilistic in its intentions, reverting back to a familiar film noir trope: the layers our hero has to unfold before he can discover his truth. That for me is Mute‘s success.

Mute is available now on Netflix worldwide.