Released on Netflix February 23, 2018
Rated TV-MA (Sexual Content, Thematic Material, Violence, Language)
2 hr. 6 min.
Directed and Written by Duncan Jones (Moon, Warcraft: The Beginning)
Also Written by Michael Robert Johnson (Sherlock Holmes, Pompeii)
Cinematography by Gary Shaw (Moon, Rush)
Music by Clint Mansell (Black Swan, Ghost in the Shell)
Edited by Barrett Heatcote (David Bowie Concert, Roseland Ballroom; Too Much Too Young)
Produced by Stuart Fenegan (The Man Who Sold the World, Moon) and Ted Sarandos (Okja, Bright)
Starring Alexander Skarsgard (True Blood, The Legend of Tarzan), Seyneb Saleh (Offroad, Dogs of Berlin), Paul Rudd (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Ant-Man), Justin Theroux (American Psycho, Mulholland Drive), Robert Sheehan (Geostorm, Bad Samaritan), Daniel Fathers (Dark Matter, The Void), Noel Clarke (Doctor Who, Star Trek: Into Darkness), and Dominic Monaghan (The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Lost)
Netflix original content is a mixed bag. On one hand, you have their original shows, many of them excellent. Narcos, Daredevil, House of Cards, Master of None, Stranger Things, and more, many of them acclaimed. Not every show is a hit and/or good, and Netflix isn’t afraid to try almost any material out, to both their credit and discredit, but they at least have a decent record with shows. Their original movies, on the other hand, are a whole other story.
Netflix does have Beasts of No Nation and films like that. Yet for each Gerald’s Game, I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore, or Mudbound, as well as top-of-the-line documentaries like Jim & Andy, there are several dumpster fires like True Memoirs of an International Assassin, The Open House, or The Ridiculous 6. The majority of Netflix original movies get poor or neutral receptions, from critics and audiences alike.
Bright was Netflix’s first attempt at a big-budget, franchise-making level feature. Some audience members enjoyed it, at least a little, but critically it was very poorly received, and even the people who said they loved it aren’t talking about it any longer, even though it only came out less than half a year ago. Also, even with a kind of decent audience reception, Netflix didn’t get the raving love for which they were swinging. I mean, I highly doubt any kids will be dressing up as Bright‘s gangster orcs this Halloween.
Enter the son of David Bowie himself, Duncan Jones, who, after directing the excellent films Moon and Source Code, has become the kind of director from whom film nerds and casual movie fans alike can anticipate interesting, new movies. Personally, I had Jones’s Netflix original, Mute, on my list of most anticipated movies of 2018, and I felt confident he would turn out something of quality, even after the “meh” Warcraft.
My confidence was misplaced.
Mute was a passion project for Jones, a film he’d been developing for years. However, studio after studio kept rejecting the script when Jones shopped it to them. So Netflix wrapped Jones up in their loving embrace. And he gave them a stinker.
I’ve been seeing a theme with movies like this. A good filmmaker wants to make a movie and feels strongly about it, but he or she can’t get any studios on board, so somebody like Netflix takes them in . . . and finances the turd. I heard, too, that the upcoming Scorsese film with De Niro and Pesci, The Irishman, has such a history. Man, I hope that one turns out differently! Martin Scorsese is one of my favorite directors, and I would absolutely hate to see him turn out something terrible. That would be like seeing Clint Eastwood crap out this year’s The 15:17 to Paris.
If I’ve spent too much time discussing things other than the movie at hand, that’s simply because I’m more interested in talking about those things than I am discussing the nitty-gritty of Mute. Let me give you a quick plot synopsis, one sentence from Netflix: “When his girlfriend vanishes, a mute man ventures into a near-future Berlin’s seamy underworld, where his actions speak louder than words.”
Sounds promising, right? Well . . .
The final product is one, big, steaming pile. It’s a hot mess. Mute really boils down to a simple noir story set in a futuristic, science-fiction world, which should be cool, but, instead, the story is unnecessarily messy, self-contradictory, and not reliant on the setting in any way, except for one unimportant element. The plot could have occurred during any time period, and I think Mute would have actually benefitted from being set in the modern-day. Beyond that, the futuristic world Jones created, though it does feature some decent design work, feels completely lifted from better films like Blade Runner, the original Ghost in the Shell, and Minority Report.
Is anything done well in Mute, beyond some competent set design? Well, besides Paul Rudd’s glorious mustache (for real, man, I want to see that thing get a spin-off ASAP, immediately, make it happen!), some of the effects, editing, and score are . . . OK. The acting is passable (Paul Rudd is actually quite good) and the movie does move along at a reasonable rate. In addition to the negatives I’ve already mentioned, though, the characters don’t make sense, especially our protagonist, Leo, who is supposed to be strictly Amish, but, knowing a thing or two about the Amish community, the things he does day-to-day don’t line up. There is also one character who is disturbingly creepy in a specific way, yet this is never appropriately dealt with by the script. Oh, and the dialogue is bad. There’s a direct nod to Moon, though, for the few folks who will go crazy for that.
I don’t like this movie very much, but some elements of it are indeed competent. I’m going to give Mute a 47%.
Watch a different Netflix original instead, like The Ritual, a horror flick that is at least directed well by rising talent David Bruckner.