Credits: Duncan Jones (Director / Writer), Michael Robert Johnson (Writer)
Starring: Alexander Skarsgård, Paul Rudd, Justin Theroux, Seyneb Saleh, Robert Sheehan
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
Mute is the latest film from Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code) and debuted exclusively on Netflix on February 23rd. It follows an Amish man named Leo (played by True Blood‘s Alexander Skarsgard) who lost his ability to speak due to a childhood accident. As an adult, he chooses to move to Berlin where he takes a job as a bartender and meets a waitress named Naadirah (played by newcomer Seyneb Saleh). They develop a relationship, but she mysteriously disappears and Leo finds himself mixed up in the city’s underworld trying desperately to find the woman he loves.
The film mixes a Blade Runner-like setting with a crime drama plot and delivers some excellent performances, especially from Alexander Skarsgard who plays against type. It also mixes in plenty of sci fi Easter Eggs and references along with homages to genre and non-genre films (if you get a very Elliot Gould / Donald Sutherland M*A*S*H vibe from Cactus Bill and Duck, that was the intention). But coming from director Duncan Jones, best known for his sci fi films, this movie might be somewhat of a let down to his fans. It definitely gets the sci fi look and feel right, but it is essentially a crime drama in a futuristic setting. The genre elements are just window dressing and add very little to the story. It’s not a bad film, though, and the performances carry it through its two hour run time. As crime dramas go, I thought it was interesting enough. But for the sci fi audience—who will definitely be attracted to this because of Jones’ involvement—it lacks the punch they will expect from the accomplished director.
Jones actually started working on Mute before he did Moon, and it was originally intended as a British gangster film. It went into development Hell, though, and he turned his attention to Moon which was his directorial debut and is now considered a sci fi classic. He returned to Mute and eventually changed it to its futuristic setting while also calling it a “spiritual successor” to Moon. But apart from a quick Easter Egg and that fact that it is supposed to take place in the same universe, Mute has very little thematic connection to his first film. It was originally intended for a theatrical release, but instead Netflix picked it up and is streaming it exclusively worldwide.
I found the movie to be entertaining if a bit lacking on the story side. But it offers plenty of reward for those who want to seek out all the references, homages, and quirky inclusions through multiple viewings. I could definitely see giving this one another go to catch some of those details and to see if there might be some substance I missed the first time around. Others may not have the patience for that. It is still worth your time to watch it through one time, especially if you are a fan of Jones, Skarsgard, and/or Paul Rudd. Just be sure to adjust expectations and you should find this to be a decent distraction if not a rather entertaining film.