The 400-Word Review: Mute
By Sean Collier
February 28, 2018
Mute, the scifi noir from writer/director Duncan Jones, has a lot to overcome.
Its main character, Leo (Alexander Skarsgard), is — as you might assume — mute, owing to an untreated accident as a child. That makes the narrative drive of the film a series of long, wandering scenes, as a man wordlessly pursues his goals without the benefit of speech (and, for the audience, often without the benefit of dialogue).
And yet, Jones — known primarily for the underseen Moon and Source Code, as well as the unfortunate Warcraft — is a strong, confident director, capable of hurdling that obstacle with ease.
It relies far too heavily on a tired, somewhat regressive trope — namely, the strong male protagonist searching for his missing lover. It’s a dated premise, fraught with poor sexual politics, and has increasingly become a burden more than a benefit to films.
And yet, in a world this dark, it does not feel exploitative.
The subject matter gets darker, treading on taboos films rarely dare to touch. And it approaches those topics in the hands of two actors — Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux — known for broad comedy.
And yet, it works. It all mostly works.
Leo and his beloved, Naadirah (Seyneb Saleh) have precious few moments of us-against-the-world bliss before she goes missing, following a run-in with some well-connected toughs at the Berlin bar where they both work. Leo must then silently navigate an underworld where torture is a workaday job and desperation is the new human condition.
Bill (Rudd) and Duck (Theroux) are a pair of heavies slash surgeons, using their medical skills for good and evil according to the whims of anyone with money. Bill would very much like to get himself and his daughter back to America; Duck’s motivations are unspeakable.
Mute is overlong, overstuffed and wears pretension as a badge of honor. It also lifts its milieu wholesale from Blade Runner; there’s more of that genre touchstone in this film than there was in last year’s Blade Runner 2049. It’s a project that, by rights, should never come together.
And yet, it does. Sort of. In parts, and probably in a manner distasteful to many. Jones, back in pursuit of his own goals, is yet to make his masterpiece. While Mute is assuredly not it, it makes the case that he will do something special in the near future.
My Rating: 6/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark