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Review: Mute

It would be fantastic if I could tell you that Mute is any good, mostly because I’d been looking forward to watching it for a long time. While I’m not very familiar with director Duncan Jones’s work, I had heard good things about his debut film Moon, so I was looking forward to seeing his latest release. Unfortunately I was horribly disappointed.

Mute follows Alexander Skarsgård as Leo, an Amish man who was rendered mute after a childhood accident damaged his throat. Many years later, Leo is working as a barman in a Berlin strip club, and dates one of the waitresses, a woman called Naadirah. After being involved in an altercation with some thugs who are harassing Naadirah, she and Leo return to his apartment and spend the night together, before she completely disappears. Determined to find the love of his life, Leo sets out to find her, often having to use the technology that he is prohibited from using due to his religious beliefs. All the while, the film cuts to the lives of two AWOL American soldiers turned gang surgeons, Cactus Bill (the ever excellent Paul Rudd) and Duck (Justin Theroux), as they struggle to acquire the paperwork necessary for Cactus to leave the country with his young daughter Josie, and with the impending threat of Leo, as the two men are somehow involved with Naadirah’s disappearance.

I will say this about Mute; it can create an amazing world. For context, the film takes place in 2035 Berlin, and the aerial shots of the city are gorgeous. This film is second to none in constructing an incredible cyberpunk city, with shots showing everything from grimy lower class black markets, to shimmering tower blocks full of the city’s elite. The audience sees people playing video games on retinal displays, drones which work as a food delivery service, flying cars, and futuristic weapons. The world building is amazing, with loud speakers talking about a distant war involving America, and TVs showing trials involving Sam Rockwell’s character from Moon. While the action all takes place in and around Berlin, this information makes the world feel so much larger and more alive. It lets the audience know that, while the world has already changed, changes are still taking place.

But all this doesn’t stop the writing from being inconsistent, and in some case quite problematic. While there are some really good moments, mostly the opening with Leo and Naadirah eating dinner on a park bench, the rest varies widely in quality. This is mostly down to the pacing, and the film definitely starts to drag in the second half. The characters feel inherently unlikable, with only Leo, Naadirah and Josie coming across well. Leo is the apparent hero, so the audience is supposed to like him, but since he can’t speak it feels like Skarsgård struggled to characterise him as anything other than a man who alternates between being either horribly miserable or violently angry. Naadirah and Josie are probably the most sympathetic and likable characters in the film, but this is because they have considerably little screen time despite both of them being essential to the two storylines of the film. And, like I said, some of the writing is very problematic. Roughly halfway through the film it is revealed that one of the characters is a paedophile, something that had been heavily hinted at earlier in the film. When one of the other characters confronts the paedophile, threatening the man if he ever engaged in the practice again, things begin to get, for lack of a better term, weird. Because, a few seconds after threatening him, the character decides to forgive the paedophile, take him out shopping and later on give him his house. This sudden, almost violent change in attitude is just one of the many examples of Mute being inconsistent with its writing.

Again, I cannot say just how disappointed I am with Mute. A project that had ambition and love behind it, it really should have been better. But, then again, that doesn’t make up for poor execution. You can see how much of himself Duncan Jones poured into the project, especially with the final thing you see before the credits. But passion, ambition, love and good intentions don’t make up for talent or execution. And that, unfortunately, is a shame.

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