Mute doesn’t have much to say.
This is a SPOILER-FREE review of Netflix’s Mute.
Netflix’s Mute, which is now available to stream, fails to achieve the heights of other successful entries within the cyberpunk genre like Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and even newcomer Altered Carbon. It’s like someone went to a science fiction-themed Home Depot, picked out all the right parts but forgot the most important piece back in aisle 7…the story.
Alexander Skarsgard plays Leo, an Amish gentlemen who is unable to speak due to a boating accident in his childhood. There is a way to fix his vocal complication but his beliefs won’t allow him to get the surgery. He’s now a bartender at a Berlin nightclub where the customers, along with most of the staff, wear costumes that look like they were purchased from a Fifth Element yard sale. He has a blue-haired girlfriend named Naadirah (Seyneb Saleh) who also works at the club and when she suddenly goes missing, Leo sets off on a forgettable journey in search of his lost love.
When done successfully, sci-fi can be a compelling medium due to its capacity to examine the human condition in a futuristic setting where anything is possible. Blade Runner, for example, delved into whether or not Artificial Intelligence can be more human than humanity, while Altered Carbon explores the downside of immortality. The main problem with Mute is that it doesn’t use its technologically-advanced backdrop to say anything new. There are hints of a war in Kandahar via a news video, problems with cloning, and a large number of American soldiers going AWOL, but other than those brief glimpses, co-writer/director Duncan Jones (Warcraft, Moon) has created a world that feels empty.
If we haven’t scared you away from Mute yet, there are two reasons that make the film tolerable, namely Paul Rudd (as Cactus Bill) and Justin Theroux (as Duck). Since Skarsgard is bereft of his lovely deep-Swedish voice, Rudd and Theroux do most of the talking as the film’s main antagonists. They’re ex-military medics who call each other “babe” and “hun.” Bill and Duck’s exact sexual orientation is perplexing at times, which helps keep their characters fresh and exciting. Depending on the scene, it’s easy to get the impression that they were once lovers or just old fraternity buddies. Either way, the actors share a fun chemistry. Sadly, they are not the characters we’re supposed to be rooting for.
As the film progresses, Leo’s story becomes more absurd, especially when he starts fighting other men that should be able to best him in combat. The troubling thing is, there’s never a scene detailing how Leo became such an effective fighter. While he doesn’t do any fancy flips or kicks, he does take on ex-military and other armed individuals with relative ease. Perhaps the writers were going for a “love conquers all” approach?
Mute begins with an Amish Proverb that says, “In order to mold his people, God often has to melt them.” If one were to take that quote to heart, than it’s logical to assume that Leo’s journey is supposed to mold him into something new by the end of the film, but it’s difficult to know if that happens since we learn very little about him. Leo is mostly a reactionary character who expresses very little of what’s going on inside his mind or his heart — all the viewer has to go on are a few words he scribbles on paper and Skarsgard’s limited facial expressions. If Leo did go through a spiritual transformation, it wasn’t evident by the time the credits roll.