A Netflix original comes around again as writer and director Duncan Jones (Moon, Warcraft: The Beginning) takes us to future Berlin for a moment of quiet contemplation.
Alexander Skarsgard (True Blood (TV), Battleship) plays Leo the mute bartender. Not just a mute bartender though, he’s also Amish and forgoes most technology, which is tricky given we’re in the future and everything is technological.
To add insult to injury, the vast majority of services Leo has to interact with are voice activated, a problem when you can’t speak a word, not even squeak.
Leo is dating Naadirah, Seyneb Saleh (Dog Days Of Berlin, Deutschland 86 (TV)), a waitress in the same bar. She begins acting strangely and, one-day, after trying to tell Leo something, she vanishes off the face of the earth.
Leo tries to track her down which sees him, quietly, going from seedy club to seedy club in search for her which brings him into contact with Cactus Bill, Paul Rudd (Ant-Man, Sausage Party), and Duck, Justin Theroux (Star Wars: The Last Jedi, The Lego Ninjago Movie).
Bill is an American army surgeon and deserter, it seems there are lots of them in future Berlin, who is trying to get some forged papers, so he and his daughter can go back to the States. Duck is also a surgeon, with a nasty little habit.
Twists and turns see Leo have to grasp technology as best he can and find his voice, both metaphorically and literally.
Mute is a visionary masterpiece from Mr. Jones. It will draw comparisons to Blade Runner, with a plethora of rain-soaked neon and flying cars, it also has a protagonist who is the strong, silent type. Literally.
Jones has described Mute as a ‘spiritual sequel’ to Moon, however Mute was also originally supposed to be a British gangster flick, before being changed to Tokyo and finally future Berlin, minus most of the gangsters.
This obvious rewriting of the original material means that there are parts that don’t quite mesh as well as you’d hope. Skarsgard, Rudd and Theroux have completely separate storylines that have nothing to do with each other.
The story point that ties it all together is a sound one and centres around Saleh. However, we spend so little time with Skarsgard and Saleh at the start, and next to no time with Saleh on her own, that it’s hard to feel much for them and we’re left with a light-touch back-story that leaves you a little deflated.
Skarsgard is good as the silent Leo, he’s not the most expressive of people to play a mute but I’m not sure the sort of character Leo is really necessitates that. Theroux has fun as the creepy Duck whilst Rudd, well, Rudd sticks out like a sore thumb.
Rudd chews his way through the film, by that I mean he’s always chewing whenever he’s on camera. I’m assuming this is a nod to how lots of foreign countries view US army men; always chewing and smoking, however it’s pointless and grates, a lot.
Rudd is angry for reasons we’re never let in on. Why did he desert the army? Why can’t he go to another country? What’s in the US for him that he wants to go back? Why do the MP’s seem to know him but don’t take him back? None of these questions are answered which gives Cactus Bill an arrogance and aloofness that just makes him annoying as a character.
Mute is a stunning looking film, of that there is no doubt, and the basis of the story line is a good one. However, it’s overlong at two-hours six minutes and we never get to explore this world we see glimpses of and characters are left under-developed too. Perhaps someone should have spoken up.