TL;DR – Compelling, brutal, it charts a world of extremes crashing together and the damage that it can do to people.
Score – 3.5 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
Because of who you are, you live almost apart from the world. However, one day you meet someone who completes you, helps you to live your life, it is pure joy. Then one day that gets taken away from you, what would you do? Where would you go? Is there any length that you would not go to get her back? These are just some of the questions that Mute askes among the tapestry of future Germany. Today we will be exploring this fascinating film from Duncan Jones, a gritty neo-noir film of mystery and deception, but also a film dealing with some very real and present issues in the world today.
So to set the scene, in the future there was a push to bring some of the Amish back to Germany which brought with it some particular challenges. For example, what do you do when your son has been run over by a boat? The doctor’s save his life, but it will take extensive surgery to repair his vocal chords. This is the backstory for Leo (Alexander Skarsgård) who continues on in life being mute, respecting the wishes of his mother, even though in future Berlin he could get the surgery to let him talk. However, he does not seem to mind as he has all he needs in the world with the love of his life Naadirah (Seyneb Saleh). They both work at a local bar, which is also a front for local crime gangs who use AWOL American soldiers like ‘Cactus’ (Paul Rudd) to help sew up their wounded. Life is good for the pair, and Leo even shows Naadirah the wooden bed he is carving for her, then one morning he wakes up and she is gone. Desperate Leo searches everywhere she could be, trying to find the love of his life.
Straight off the bat, I want to talk about what a wonderful performance Alexander Skarsgård is giving here. There is no dialogue for him to express himself with as the character is mute, so everything has to be expressed through his face. It is said that your eyes are windows into your soul, and here I think I almost believe that in every look, we see it in his face and you cannot help but feel the weight of the world that is upon him. Seyneb Saleh is a fantastic counterpoint to Alexander during their scenes together, she might be more of an extrovert but they both complement each other and you can feel the love in every moment. The rest of the cast is all giving fascinating performances, with Paul Rudd showing more of a dramatic side to his performance than I have seen before, and as he is the other driving force for the film it is important that he is as compelling as he is here. Also, Justin Theroux who is playing Cactus’ best friend and former army buddy Duck is well, ew he is creepy, so creepy, but that is what the part required so ok then maybe but ew.
Mute is set in in Berlin, I believe about 40 years in the future, so that gives the filmmakers a way to blend some of the more outlandish sci-fi elements, with some of the technological inventions that might not be that far away in the future. So you get a hint of films like Blade Runner (see review) or Ghost in the Shell (see review) but then it also feels more grounded, like we could see this world within our lifetimes. As well as this, setting the film in Berlin gives it a different feel than many of the other cities that commonly get used in this setting like New York or Tokyo. The set design is all in the details that immerse you into this world, this combined with the costumes creates a world you just want to explore. Indeed, if there is a problem it is that we get snippets of the world but not really a good picture. Now part of this is probably just me, as I love future world building, probably a bit too much, also I have not seen Moon which might have fleshed out things a little bit more.
On the surface, Mute is slipping into that neo-noir feel, and it hits a lot of those key points throughout the film and even has that pulpy vibe to it at times. However, it is not just content to be a neo-noir film, it also has a lot to say on a range of issues. Now to talk about this we are going to have to talk a little bit about the story, so there will be [SPOILERS] here, you can skip to the conclusion if you have not seen the film yet and want to avoid them. The first is how we are going to deal with technology as a society going forward when you have people who either chose not to engage with it or simply can’t engage with it for reasons. I was wondering why Leo was made to be Amish in the film, was it just to give a reason as to why he did not have his vocal chords repaired? But I think it is more than that, there is a striking disconnect when we see that juxtaposition of an analogue man in a digital world. So there are parts of the world he chooses not to engage with, and as we move forward as a society we need to work out how we integrate people who chose not to engage or cannot afford to even if they wanted to. However, more than this we see times when Leo simply cannot access certain pieces of technology because they are voice activated. This is already an issue today, and can you wonder what it is going to be like in the future if we don’t work on accessibility issues for people with disabilities.
As well as this, the film also touches a bit on the ‘band of brothers’ mentality and some of the issues that can flow from it. Cactus and Duck are old army friends, so close they shared a bunk during their tour of Afghanistan. This creates a bond between them that allows for some deeply problematic “stuff” to occur. Taking just Duck, it is clear that he is off-putting at best, but as the film goes on it is revealed that he is a man with some deep psychological problems. These problems have existed for a very long time and not one person who knew took the time to do anything about it. Even when Cactus does act, it is more out of a selfish motivation, and he does not turn his friend into the police but tries to deal with the horrendous issue in-house. As well as this, and if you ignored my last warning please skip over this if you have not seen the film [MAJOR SPOILERS]. We see a Military Police Officer openly tell someone that he is being hunted, and who was tipping them off to his location, and all it takes is a bribe to send them away. So we get these issues of protectionism crashing into abuse and this is a real problem today as any number of case studies show, unfortunately. While touching on these issues is important, and I am glad Mute did shine a light on them. It did feel that maybe the ending of the film was stretched out a bit too much to build the tension around a character that the film had already done a good job of doing that well before the third act.
So, do we recommend Mute? Yes, we do. It is a fascinating film that is superbly acted, dealing with important issues, and is visually interesting. If you need an example as to how good an actor Alexander Skarsgård can be you only need to show them this film where he does more acting with just his eyes than some people do with every part of themselves. If anything the one thing Mute has made me do is to commit to searching out and giving Moon a watch because I want to explore this world more.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Mute
Directed by – Duncan Jones
Story by – Duncan Jones
Screenplay by – Michael Robert Johnson & Duncan Jones
Music by – Clint Mansell
Cinematography by – Gary Shaw
Edited by – Laura Jennings & Barrett Heathcote
Starring – Alexander Skarsgård, Paul Rudd, Justin Theroux, Seyneb Saleh, Mia-Sophie Bastin, Lea-Marie Bastin, Nikki Lamborn, Ulf Hermann, Florence Kasumba, Gilbert Owuor, Daniel Fathers, Noel Clarke, Robert Sheehan & Jannis Niewöhner with Dominic Monaghan, Florence Kasumba & Sam Rockwell
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: na; Germany: na; New Zealand: na; United Kingdom: 15; United States: na