While many films stand the test of time, others fade into obscurity. Whether this happens over a period of years or almost instantly upon a film’s release, each of these titles have slipped through the cracks of our collective memory to join the ranks of the Films That Time Forgot.
Considered by director Duncan Jones as a “spiritual sequel” to his 2009 film Moon, Mute follows a mute bartender, Leo (Alexander Skarsgård), as he searches for his missing girlfriend in the seedy underworld of near-future Berlin. Mute also features Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux as back-alley surgeons (and former soldiers) who serve as the film’s primary antagonists.
Visually, Mute is excellent. It perfectly communicates the nature of the dark, cyberpunk landscape of future Berlin, with small visual nods to Blade Runner that generally don’t ever feel too forced. Mute‘s gentle neon glow offsets the gritty, grimy nature of its story, which is somewhat heavy-handed, but above all, gripping.
The mystery at Mute‘s core is both tragic and undefined, and only slightly suffers from the issues brought about by the film’s interesting premise. By making its protagonist mute, the film is forced to use other means of telling its story, and its gorgeous visuals make a valiant effort.
Where Mute suffers is in its broader ideas. It tries to make Paul Rudd’s Cactus Bill a somewhat sympathetic figure before revealing him to be a monster in a twist so underwhelming it may as well have been advertised from the start. It tries to introduce the idea of genuinely evil characters alongside more indifferent antagonists, but it grapples with this only briefly before leaving a disorganized tangle of characters at the fore.
Mute‘s many story threads are all eventually untangled, but this isn’t as satisfying as it perhaps deserves to be. However, thanks to the performance of Skarsgård, Mute has at least one character who feels genuinely human, and that’s something that keeps its story afloat through the film’s shakier moments, particularly the significantly jagged momentum that Mute relentlessly beats ahead on.
One small satisfying moment is Mute‘s brief use of a scene which serves as an epilogue to Moon, featuring Sam Rockwell’s Sam Bell from Jones’ previous film. This introduces the idea of a much larger world just on the periphery of Mute‘s self-contained narrative, which makes for a nice touch to elevate a less-than-perfect film.
Mute is far from high art, but its blend of neo-noir storytelling with cyberpunk visuals was always going to draw comparisons with Blade Runner, which were never going to be favorable for Jones’ film. However, its use of visual storytelling and impressive acting is something to be commended, and Paul Rudd subtly playing against type while still maintaining his lovable grouchy nice-guy act alone made for an interesting experience. Mute‘s third act is a tense pay-off to its much weaker first half, even if its ultimate conclusion is a little uninventive.
Generally speaking, Mute is a good film. It’s a little confused at times, and its pacing perhaps needed a little more attention, but it tells an enjoyable noir story that feels both fresh and familiar. Criticisms of how derivative Mute is aren’t entirely fair, as while it may be a neo-noir sci-fi action-thriller, its place in that very specific sub-genre is genuinely earned on its own merits – namely, solid world-building and sound acting.
Summary: Mute‘s gripping neo-noir story is let down by muddled story-telling but saved (in part) by its gently glowing visuals, overall making for an experience that’s difficult to fully unpack or overly enjoy.
Highlights: Mute‘s visuals make near-future Berlin feel all too real, offering a genuinely intriguing glimpse into the much larger world Jones tried to create.