Mute (2018)

Man, I was excited for this movie. Ever since seeing teasers for Mute over a year ago, the thought of a cyberpunk noir thriller unabashedly following in the footsteps of Blade Runner was tantalizing. Copycat movies don’t immediately seem like a good idea, but in a genre that’s fairly underrepresented in movies, I’ll jump at any opportunity to visually revisit that dystopian world. Well, it was finally released on February 23, and as soon as I got home and fed the dogs, I plopped down on the couch and hit play. The result was, to say the least, disappointing. The simple plot takes entirely too long to unfold, and the long, silent moments that made other movies of this ilk darkly atmospheric are attempted unsuccessfully and just wind up being dull.

But before we get to ripping into this, let’s touch on some of the good points. Paul Rudd’s character, Cactus Bill, is fun to watch. He makes the best of what he’s been given to work with, and is easily the most engaging character in the movie, particularly in a genuinely funny scene where he’s talking out loud about torturing and murdering someone in a restaurant much to the horror of a little old lady sitting next to him. Tomas Skarsgard, playing the Mute main character Leo who is searching for his missing girlfriend, is given considerably less to work with. His role mostly involves giving longing looks to other people, photographs, objects, etc. Nevertheless, Skarsgard manages to convey his emotional damage with reasonable efficacy, and his attempts to be likeable generally work in a sad puppy-dog sort of way. You kind of just want to give him a hug.

The dystopian neo-Berlin that Mute is set in is gorgeous; tall buildings covered in neon signs, throngs of people of myriad styles and ethnicity smashed together in black markets of every gadget you can think of. It’s truly an ideal portrayal of a society plagued by too much technology. The attention to detail is great, such as the inclusion of a drone-delivered food service that I thought was a particularly smart addition.

This gorgeous scenery, however, is one Mute’s biggest crimes. For all its detailed design, for all its gritty-looking streets and hordes of bright corporate advertising, it plays absolutely zero part of the story. Mute could just as easily have taken place in a modern-day metropolis and made no difference whatsoever. Hell, even the scenes where characters get into cars, they use regular goddamn cars, not one of the hovercars we see zooming all over the place. So what’s the bloody point? The most technologically advanced item that has any bearing on the plot is a smartphone. It’s a shameful waste of atmosphere and a complete squandering of potential.

Then we have Leo, who can’t speak due to a throat trauma in his childhood. Mute emphasizes the importance of Leo’s upbringing being Amish; when his vocal cords get lacerated, his mother chooses not to allow surgery and to rely on the power of prayer to restore his voice. This prologue is played off as an important aspect to the character that will play into the movie later, but it doesn’t. At best, it explains his overall simple lifestyle, but it wasn’t necessary, and they could have just as easily skipped the whole Amish garbage and shown him as an adult with a scar on his throat. We don’t need to know why he can’t speak, because it doesn’t even matter, so why bother wasting our time with something so misleading?

Leo’s girlfriend, Naadirah, is a waitress at the bar he tends and does little to endear herself to you. She is one-dimensional and Seyneb Saleh’s delivery of her character is obtusely flat delivery, almost like she’s voiced over. In the brief time you do see her, it’s clear that Leo’s devotion to her far outweighs her devotion to him, which makes it all the more infuriating when you see his poor character bending over backwards to dig through the underworld to find her. Since she’s not that great to begin with, when she disappears, it’s hard to care, or to understand why Leo cares so much. She seems like the type to up and leave for no reason anyways, and you feel like he should’ve expected it. The amount of time devoted to visiting various locales in an effort to track her feel irrelevant and shoehorned into the movie in an effort to make the situation desperate.

Cactus Bill and his pseudo-homosexual partner Duck, played by Justin Theroux, are a seedy ex-military duo that performs emergency medical services for underground mobsters, and are easily the liveliest part of Mute. But their characters are muddled, and their involvement in the plot takes far too long to be uncovered, leaving you to wonder why you’re following them around for the first half of the movie. Duck is entirely unlikable, and for good reason; he’s eventually revealed to be a pedophile, a cheap move that’s poorly justified and only serves as a last-ditch effort to make Cactus more of a villain when he finds out and is not OK with it but kinda is.

It all eventually leads up to an underwhelming climax. The reason for Naadirah’s disappearance isn’t the stomach-dropping revelation you’d ben led to (or hope for after almost two hours) and seems like it could’ve all been sorted out with a good conversation. Mute doesn’t end with a bang, nor did it start with one; it flatlines its way through the whole thing.

In short, Mute doesn’t deliver on its promise. Don’t be deceived by the bright lights of its dark future; it’s just a dull detective story with a cyberpunk gloss painted over it. It simply drags out for far too long without fulfilling any of its potential. If you’re hungry for some cyberpunk action, the Netflix series Altered Carbon is flawed but still enjoyable, you can check out 2047: Virtual Revolution, and of course there’s the philosophical masterpiece that is Blade Runner 2049, but that recommendation is pointless because you’ve already seen it.

-Void

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