The knives are out for Netflix original films, as far as the critics are concerned. Bright was panned and now Duncan Jones’ Mute suffers the same fate. We demur.
Whilst it is true that the plot is simple (and often banal) and the narrative pace can be ponderous – this is offset, we believe, by the illuminating setting, the brilliant performances and the underlying concepts of Mute.
Main character Leo (Alexander Skarsgård) is not only mute – from a childhood accident – but also has an Amish upbringing. This establishes Leo’s status as a outlier as he struggles to cope with modern technology.
Leo resides in Berlin, 40 years in the future, and Jones’ does an amazing job fleshing out the setting in realistic and imaginative ways. Some lazy comparisons have been made by critics to Blade Runner 2049, but that is purely superficial.
The love of Leo’s life, Naadirah (Seyneb Saleh) disappears suddenly and Leo has to navigate the criminal underbelly of the city in order to find him.
Before Naadirah goes missing, she mentions to Leo that she is holding on to a secret, which she never has a chance to reveal to him.
The story also features two characters that do not seem related to this main plot viz. two shady American doctors Cactus Bill (Paul Rudd) and Duck (Justin Theroux), who ultimately have a big part to play in Leo’s quest.
Both Rudd and Theroux are brilliant and somewhat play against type. The duo are pretty nasty pieces of work and their characterisations are well handled by Jones and developed by the two actors.
As mentioned earlier, the plot is a slow burn but once the pieces of the puzzle fall into place, the resolution becomes clear. Leo as ever is stoic and determined in what he needs to achieve and Skarsgård informs him with sensitivity and kindness.
Certainly, the pace of the film could have been tightened and at about six minutes over two hours, is a little overlong – especially at the end, when one feels the film should have already concluded.
In any case, we loved how Jones immersed the viewer into Leo’s world – we were held in rapt wonder and shared his frustration at the obstacles posed by his technophobia.
But whatever the time frame and state of technology might be, human nature remains selfish and predatory, and one has to hold on to what is important to rise above.
It may take time to discern, but definitely there are treasures to discover in Mute‘s deliberate presentation. Hopefully, it gets the recognition it deserves, if not from the critics, then from the geeks out there.
… still there’s more …