by Tyler Jennes
Tightly-written, memorable, engaging, comprehensible – these are the words I’d use to describe Moon, Duncan Jones’ inventive and high-quality 2009 sci-fi film. He then followed that up with Source Code, a refreshingly smart mainstream action film with some solid performances to spare. Jones was, to many, an infallible filmmaker until the much-anticipated Warcraft was released, which has become one of the more polarizing fantasy films in recent memory. But, in the wise words of Meat Loaf, two out of three ain’t bad. So, now, after years of waiting, Jones has finally released Mute, a project he has been championing since before Moon’s production. I, along with many other fans of his work, have been greatly anticipating the film’s release, hoping that it can make it onto the shortlist of great Netflix movies alongside Beasts of No Nation and Okja. Well, does it deserve to be on this list, you may ask? The answer is absolutely not.
One would think that 16 years of working on a film’s story would actually result in a decent plot, but Mute defies all odds by serving up countless scenes of meandering slog barely held together. Our hero, the mute Leo (Alexander Skarsgård), is painfully dull as he traipses around future Berlin looking for his girlfriend Naadirah (Seyneb Saleh), whose five minutes of screen time greatly hinders our ability to give a single damn about her. It’s shocking that the very same actor months ago received universal acclaim for his role in Big Little Lies, only to pull an Eddie Redmayne in Jupiter Ascending in terms of quality whiplash here. The fact of the matter is that, when the film doesn’t bother to develop its protagonist beyond ‘big mute Amish guy who draws well,” the audience can’t bother to care about him. Another issue is that the film is not incredibly concerned about showing Leo for the majority of the narrative, instead deciding to repeatedly cut to an incomprehensibly idiotic subplot.
The subplot in question pertains to Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux as two buddy street surgeons. Paul Rudd is a caring single father who brings his young daughter to his usual stomping grounds, a brothel and Justin Theroux is a pedophile. Yes, you read that right – Rudd is the father of a young girl, and his best friend is a pedophile. Does the movie ever recognize how horrifyingly disturbing this dynamic is? Not even slightly. Oh wait, there is one precious scene where Rudd confronts Theroux upon discovering his disgusting predilections, but then minutes later the two are partying it up, chummy as two peas in a rotten, putrid pod. Of course, Theroux’s character trait is basically forgotten for the rest of the film, making this subplot not only completely tone-deaf, but utterly pointless.
I think that my biggest issue with this film is that, even though it revels in the idea that it’s an enigmatic cyberpunk sci-fi story in the same vein as Blade Runner, not once during the two excruciating hours of runtime did I ever see the atmosphere have any bearing on the plot. This film could have just as well been a gangster film set in modern-day London (the original idea for the film) and nothing of great importance would have been lost. The only reason I’d hesitate to sacrifice the sci-fi setting is that the futuristic visuals are one of the only nuggets of decency in this turgid mess of a film. Ironically, there were times during the film where I felt tempted to press mute and enjoy the gorgeous vistas that no doubt received more attention than the characters, narrative, or editing. I felt angry watching this, if only because this genuinely interesting setting is wasted on such a meandering story. It almost makes you feel bad that so many talented set designers and crew members worked so hard only to have drizzled a bit of sauce onto this dry, stale sandwich of a motion picture.
So yeah, you could say I didn’t much care for Mute. Honestly, this film isn’t even worth watching for a ‘so bad it’s good’ experience. The only reason I’m refraining from giving it the lowest score possible is due to Rudd’s commendable acting efforts and a solid aesthetic design. This whole viewing experience is one of the more disappointing in recent memory and I am confident in saying that this is the worst film of the year so far. Hopefully other works of science fiction this year can wash the foul taste of this film out and will actually be worthy of the genre’s title.