Released: 23rd February 2018 (Australia)
Seen: 10th March 2018
Mute tells the story of Leo (Played by Alexander Skarsgard), a deaf Amish man who works as a bartender at a strip club in Berlin. Set in a futuristic/cyberpunkish world, we follow Leo on his quest to find his missing girlfriend Naadirah (Played by Sayneb Saleh) and on the way he runs into the worst elements of Berlin’s seedy underbelly. One of those elements is American surgeon and AWOL soldier Cactus Bill (Played by Paul Rudd) who want’s nothing more than to get out of Berlin and needs to wait for a man called Maksim (Played by Gilbert Owuor) to forge him a passport so he can leave with his daughter. Until he can leave, Cactus and his friend Duck (Played by Justin Theroux) run an underground surgery where they help patch up mobsters and anyone else in need of some medical assistance without going to the hospital.
If it sounds like I just described two very different stories, that’s because I did. The plot of this movie tries to link these two ideas but it never works. Leo is running around town trying to find Naadirah and meanwhile Cactus is running around town trying to get his passport and the two only meet up during random moments that are there to force these two stories together. The main story is the one involving Leo trying to find Naadiah and if you were to cut out every scene with Paul Rudd in it, you’d lose almost nothing of value for roughly 90% of the movie. The two stories only really come together at the climax and when they do it is right out of left field. They have no reason to intersect for most of the film and they only really have any impact on each other when there’s about a third of the film left to go. Add on top of all that 25 minutes at the end of the film after the main story is actually over and done with, 25 minutes that are just there in order to pad the run time of the movie and what you get is a confusing slog of a story that somehow feels longer than the directors cut of Lord of the Rings.
When it comes to the performances, the only one who really seems to actually be trying is Alexander Skarsgard. He has to somehow give a compelling performance without the use of his voice. He does a surprisingly good job of making the character easy to understand without going over the top. If you want someone who is going over the top, that’s why Paul Rudd is here. I know he’s trying to make his character intimidating and there are moments when his character, Cactus, is genuinely quite scary but 99% of the time he’s obnoxious. I’m not scared of him, I’m irritated by him. His co-villain Duck isn’t much better. There are moments when you would swear that Duck and Cactus are actually lovers, mostly because Duck uses the word “Babe” as though it’s a goddamn comma. By the end of an hour, that word lost all meaning and by the end of two hours, it becomes actually torturous to hear.
Oh, also, Duck is a pedophile and we’re meant to care about him in some form after that revelation happens. I don’t know about you, but when I’m told that a major character is a pedophile I tend to stop giving a damn about them and just think they deserve to be set on fire. I’m weird like that, not a pedophile fan. This film want’s you to give a damn about him. It want’s you to give a damn about all the characters but the problem is that they aren’t characters. They’re checklists assembled to try and be quirky. Duck is a pedophile and a brilliant surgeon. Leo is Amish enough that he doesn’t understand technology but not Amish enough that he’ll work in a strip club. Naadiah is a waitress with a heart of gold. Luba (Played by Robert Sheehan) is a gay man with Frida Kahlo eyebrows and an occasional penchant for drag. These are not characters, these are random traits picked out by the manatees that write Family Guy episodes.
The visuals in this film are stunning at first, the comparisons to Blade Runner are apt up to a point. Some scenes look amazing, embracing the futuristic style completely and creating some stunning visuals and actually futuristic looking gadgets and then you’ll have entire sequences take place in a generic looking basement that looks like they just put up four planks of wood to create a room. All the tech is meant to be strange and new to the viewer, and the main character has a crappy flip phone that he still can’t use… on account of him being Amish, remember? There are also several very stupid moments where Cactus get’s a phone call from Maksim, but it’s clearly an implant of some kind because he doesn’t have a wireless headset or even pull a phone out. The problem is that there is no way the audience is told that he’s getting a phone call so he will just start talking like he’s on a call which leads to him just looking nuts and makes it harder to follow what’s going on. This is particularly bad in a scene where he has a confrontation with Duck and at some point he get’s a call, but because there’s no indication that he’s on the phone he ends up looking like he’s snapped. It’s irritating, it’s something that could be fixed with a simple sound cue and they didn’t even bother to do that.
The director clearly wanted to make some kind of a Blade Runner-esque sci-fi epic but, unfortunately, he lacked the ability to edit this film into something cohesive. The final 30 minutes of this film could be cut and no one would care. There are so many pointless sequences in this movie that don’t add to the world at all. I didn’t need the scene with the man in Kabuki theatre getup who has two anatomically correct male robots having sex on his bed, it really adds nothing. It’s almost like the director decided to throw everything he could think of on screen and hoped that some of it might work but it doesn’t. All it does is create several moments where you can leave Netflix running while you take a bathroom break, you won’t miss anything I promise.
Mute tries so hard to be interesting. It had a good idea and a cast that is normally very capable but there was no attempt at a decent execution here. This film badly needed a second draft on the script and an editor who would look the director in the eye and tell him that he needed to cut at least a quarter of the movie out in order to make it work. Comparing this movie to Blade Runner may be cliche but it’s the best comparison there is. Blade Runner is how you do a sci-fi mystery story right, and Mute is how you do a sci-fi mystery story wrong.