Along with Alex Garland’s new movie Annihilation, the other big movie event this weekend is Mute, the latest offering from Duncan Jones, the man who gave us the epic Moon (2009) and the slightly less-than epic Source Code (2011) and Warcraft: The Beginning (2016).
Sadly however, unlike this weekend’s other big movie, Mute isn’t getting such smoking hot reviews.
This story is set in Berlin, 40 years from today. A roiling city of immigrants, where East crashes against West in a science-fiction Casablanca. Leo Beiler (Alexander Skårsgard), a mute bartender has one reason and one reason only for living here, and she’s disappeared. But when Leo’s search takes him deeper into the city’s underbelly, an odd pair of American surgeons (led by Paul Rudd) seem to be the only recurring clue, and Leo can’t tell if they can help, or who he should fear most.
Duncan Jones’s sci-fi thriller is a Netflix disaster. The Moon director has delivered a catastrophically misjudged riff on Blade Runner with an astoundingly dull performance from Skårsgard.
Duncan Jones turns David Bowie’s Berlin into a sub-Blade Runner sci-fi. The plot hangs on relationships which simply don’t ring true. Rudd, in particular, is poorly cast, lacking the menace his role demands. Jones conjured intimacy on the surface of the moon, but in the crowded streets of futuristic Berlin, there’s no real feeling.
Mute is a mishmash of ideas in search of a movie. Jones is clearly an ambitious and interesting filmmaker. He’ll get over this misfire and possibly even complete what was once proposed as a loosely-connected trilogy. I hope it doesn’t take as long for that one to get to viewers as it did with Mute because it doesn’t seem like the delay did this project any favors.
Mute is not a perfect movie. A lot of its quirkier beats end up fitting too neatly into its conclusion, which can feel a bit forced once the story’s dominoes start falling over. But if Mute feels tenuously tied to Moon in terms of story, there’s a deeper connection in that both films take the time to question what makes us truly human, no matter the circumstances. Mute also offers a downbeat yet relatable vision of the future, with tech that seems eminently plausible as well as some more worrisome projections, like the idea that genuinely good people are probably an endangered species.
Jones is a wonderful filmmaker. He’s able to lay out glorious imagery, and he’s able to create memorable, distinct characters. But something about Mute never clicks. I take no pleasure in relaying this news. Sadly, Mute was not worth the wait. This is a passion project for Jones, and I’m thrilled he was able to finally get it made. I just hope he can now move on to making something better instead.
An over-designed but otherwise uninspired slice of sci-fi noir — a stock missing-persons mystery in which a wordless bartender goes searching for his girlfriend through the sketchy near-future Berlin underworld.
Jones reportedly conceived of the film years ago. However, as the story evolved and took on more emotional themes he never found the right balance between the sentimental and the hard-boiled. As resonant as the personal may potentially be, it gets lost in a quagmire of influences.
Los Angeles Times
Ultimately, it’s hard to sense the same director who embedded us so thoroughly in the carefully heightened atmosphere of philosophical adventure that was Moon. Here, a Sam Rockwell cameo glimpsed in a news clip detailing a Lunar Industries imbroglio clues us in that Mute is set in the same world as that earlier film. But the connection doesn’t extend, regrettably, to the filmmaker behind both movies.
Let us know what you think in the comments below.
Mute debuts today, February 23, on Netflix.
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