Leo (Alexander Skarsgard) is a bartender who, as a child, was rendered mute after an accident tore his voice box apart. While it could have been solved with a simple surgery, coming from an Amish family, he was forced to simply endure “God’s Will”. Now, living in a big bustling city, he has a loving relationship with the bar’s blue-haired waitress Naadirah (Seyneb Saleh). The morning after Naadirah confesses her love for Leo, despite having a painful secret she can’t bring herself to share with him, she goes missing. Leo goes on a one man sleuthing mission to find what happened to the woman he loves.
Meanwhile, Cactus Bill (Paul Rudd) is a former U.S. Soldier now living in the same German city as Leo and frequents the club Leo and Naadirah work at. He and his old military buddy Duck (Justin Theroux) work as surgeons for a criminal organization to raise money for Cactus Bill and his young daughter to get passports and a flight back to America to start their lives fresh.
The lives of Cactus Bill and Leo cross paths repeatedly as Leo’s adventure brings him closer to the truth about his missing love.
Mute is a Netflix original, directed by David Bowie’s son – Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code, and Warcraft). It’s a futuristic neo-noir film written by Duncan Jones and Michael Robert Johnson (Sherlock Holmes, Pompeii, and the interactive choose-your-own adventure style movie Late Shift).
At 126-minutes, Mute felt entirely too long. There were many scenes throughout the film that did little to progress the story or characterizations, as if they were things the filmmakers just couldn’t bring themselves to cut from the script despite the lack of purpose. Also, there was a fantastic (albeit sad) point where the movie could have ended… but then it continued on another 20 minutes before the actual ending. All this shows the film just wasn’t developed as well as it could’ve been ahead of time.
That lack of proper film development also comes into play when you consider the movie is focused on the wrong characters. Leo is obviously the hero of our story, and therefore should be the one with the most screen time, even if that screen time is not filled with his dialogue. Instead, his story often gets forgotten and left for dead as we set our sights on the antagonistic duo of Cactus Bill and Duck. While I’ll admit their chemistry gave the film most of its life, I still believe it was a misstep to have so much of the movie centered around them. They were good characters who were well developed and had the best lines, but at the end of the day you want to see the title character go about the hardboiled detective work, not the bad guys orbiting absentmindedly around his life. The mute one is the one we’re all here to see.
There were some beautiful moments in this film. The first act of the film, as we watch Leo and Naadirah’s romance blossom and build was quirky and romantic in a way that reminded me of The Shape of Water. And much like Sally Hawkins in that film, Alexander Skarsgard does a fantastic job of portraying his emotions through shoulder placement and a well-placed eyebrow arch. I would have loved to see more of the Leo/Naadirah story even if it meant giving me flashbacks of the earlier parts of their meeting as he goes looking for her as that felt like the real story and why I’d want to tune in. Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux do magnificent jobs in their roles as well, but again they aren’t who I came here to see.
I’d also like to commend production designer Paul D. Austerberry, who, incidentally, was also the production designer for The Shape of Water. He gave the movie world a great feel that was somewhere between 5th Element and Blade Runner but without ever feeling over-the-top. Likewise, the music played a great part in this film without being overbearing or overly manipulative.
However, a great look can’t fix story. In addition to focusing too much on the B-plot rather than strengthening the A-plot, there were a lot of plot holes, such as how did this Amish bartender become such a badass fighter, and why would the bad guy take the time to do that thing near the end (sorry, no spoilers or Netflix will cancel my account).
If you want to hop on Netflix and see a compelling sci-fi mystery that will give a good time and make you play along with solving the crime… go binge Altered Carbon. But if you only have 2 hours to spare instead of 10, Mute might make an adequate substitute, as long as can ignore the many story problems. It kept me engaged, but honestly made me mad as it felt like Duncan Jones suddenly forgot how to tell a good story. Guess that’s what happens if you spend too much time with a bunch of orcs.