What can be said about “Mute”? I for one am fighting all snide instincts to make a joke about the title.
“Mute” is an exceptionally apt title for a movie that says nothing.
I’m also fighting the urge to joke that the movie would be better muted itself.
And, of course, I’m fighting the comparison that “Mute” leaves you speechless and wanting to go to sleep for the next two days.
But, I won’t do any of that.
The reason for this is “Mute” really does try to be something. It throws just about everything in, hoping something will stick.
The protagonist, Leo (Alexander Skarsgård), is your typical ex-Amish, mute bartender-type.
The setting, essentially a soulless rendition of a Blade Runner-ed Berlin, vaguely hints at an authoritarian government, but never enough to be even remotely relevant.
Leo is searching for his missing girlfriend, Naadirah (Seyneb Saleh), who disappears within the first 20 minutes of the film.
Around 90 percent (rough estimation) of her dialogue is either an endearing “Oh Leo” or something along the lines of “There’s something you don’t know about me” type foreshadowing.
What makes it even more frustrating is that several times Naadirah is going to explain herself, Leo finds a way to stop her (despite being mute) and unfortunately results in the rest of the movie happening.
The remaining hour and a half is Leo bumbling around the seedy underbelly of neo-Berlin, staring at people in the hopes that it will give him his girlfriend back.
It is possible to make a mute character interesting, but when the fact that he is mute is his only identifiable personality trait, seeing him look sad becomes extremely exhausting.
The movie does very little to develop Leo into a real character defined by more than just his mute-ness, and that’s especially unfortunate.
As far as the film’s villains, I suppose Duck (Justin Theroux) and Cactus Bill (Paul Rudd) take the mantle.
What makes them so bizarre as villains is how much more developed they are than the silent protagonist or his blue-haired damsel in distress of a girlfriend.
“Inglourious Basterds” is a fairly decent comparison.
In that film, where the heroes were your generic WWII soldier types, Hans Landa was a compellingly written while equally vile villain.
However, the discrepancy wasn’t so bad that you almost rooted for him.
He was still clearly the antagonist and while the protagonists weren’t all that compelling, it worked for that story.
In “Mute,” however, to have the only captivating characters be a murderer and a pedophile — you are in a serious predicament.
While they may only illuminate the film’s other glaring problems, Duck and Cactus Bill’s scenes are at least compelling.
Theroux and Rudd play the characters well, with an almost romantic bond between the two of them.
The idea of a film so deeply analyzing the relationship between two blatant psychopaths is, at least, an interesting idea.
Their bond is truly disturbing.
Seeing Bill confront Duck about becoming increasingly more predatory toward his daughter only to be forgiven immediately afterward and to even show a brief party scene between the two of them together will leave any viewer uncomfortable.
Whether this jarring jump in tone was intentional or not, I at least respect the director’s effort to create a film this amoral.
This film is a mess and while there may be some catharsis to poke fun at its bumbling nature, I take no pleasure in my disappointment over it.
The director, Duncan Jones, is clearly a deeply talented man who has made two excellent films already, “Moon” and “Source Code.”
There are aspects of this film where his talent does shine through.
A particularly disturbing scene featuring a character gurgling blood through a knife in his throat shows Jones can create a scene of legitimate horror.
The fact that Jones would so willingly have a villain be portrayed so blatantly as pedophilic, while executed somewhat awkwardly, at least shows an uncompromising nature.
Nevertheless, it is hard to say what exactly went wrong with this film.
I’m wondering if a Netflix release may have had some influence on its execution — but that’s merely theorizing.
In many ways the film feels overdone, while also half-baked, it has too much, and yet says too little.
Like its protagonist, “Mute” misunderstands just when and what to ask and left me searching for a sense of clarity.