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Friday, Aug 23, 2019

Mute movie review: The worst thing to happen to Justin Theroux this week

Mute movie review: Despite the blazing talent involved - director Duncan Jones, Alexander Skarsgard, Paul Rudd - it’s another let-down from Netflix. And poor Justin Theroux is having the worst week.

movie-reviews Updated: Mar 03, 2018 12:34 IST
Rohan Naahar
Rohan Naahar
Hindustan Times
Mute is set in a future Berlin, a city teeming with immigrants and a lonely lover.
Mute is set in a future Berlin, a city teeming with immigrants and a lonely lover.

Duncan Jones
Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Paul Rudd, Justin Theroux
Rating: 1.5/5

While promoting Star Trek Beyond – a movie for which he served as co-writer, in addition to his role as Scotty – Simon Pegg offered his approach to the material. The idea, he said, was to write a genre picture – say, a detective thriller or a war epic – and populate it with characters from the franchise. It’s a trick best used to tackle those big Marvel movies, which are mostly written by people not intimately familiar with dense comic book lore. This was also what Duncan Jones did with his last movie, Warcraft, which was almost a Western, but with fantasy creatures, of course.

This hack never works with smaller films – it shouldn’t – because it is those movies that Marvel is trying to emulate. So when Captain America: The Winter Soldier is called a ‘70s conspiracy thriller, people are drawing comparisons to All the President’s Men or Three Days of the Condor. The trouble with Mute, Jones’ new movie, is that not only does it try to appropriate the textures and tones of Blade Runner, it creates an almost identical world, within the same genre.

Mute isn’t the first movie to make its affections for Ridley Scott’s classic known. The list is too long to reproduce here. But only last year, we saw Ghost in the Shell and Denis Villeneuve’s sequel. And just last month, we were delivered Altered Carbon – again, by Netflix – and were expected to watch all ten episodes of its derivative drivel. In one of the series of unfortunate events to have befallen Mute, the only real points it manages to score with regard to Blade Runner comparisons is that, like Scott’s sci-fi masterpiece, it mostly ignores its most potent theme: immigration.

Mute’s visuals borrow heavily (and shamelessly) from Blade Runner.
Mute’s visuals borrow heavily (and shamelessly) from Blade Runner. ( Netflix )

In Mute, Alexander Skarsgard plays Leo, a bartender in a future Berlin teeming with a multi-cultural population of fluid sexuality. People dress like they’re out of a Philip K Dick story, with plastics and glitter obscuring faces lit by blazing neon. Most of them, continuing the trend that we have seen in these stories, have had some sort of cybernetic enhancement made to their physical bodies. Except Leo.

Alexander Skarsgård plays Leo Beiler, a mute man with a violent past.
Alexander Skarsgård plays Leo Beiler, a mute man with a violent past. ( Netflix )

When he was a child in America, Leo Beiler was involved in an accident that took away a part of his neck, and his voice. His Amish mother refused to let doctors fix him, leaving his fate in the hands of her God. A few years later, Leo, along with thousands of Amish, returned to Germany, their motherland. Leo grew up in the seedy underbelly of a large metropolis, the rain-soaked, crime-ridden flipside to the progressive futuristic landscape above.

When his girlfriend – whom he loves dearly, the movie tells us, and expects us to get on boards – goes missing, Leo embarks on a quest to find her, which sends him on a collision course with Cactus Bill and Duke Teddington, two Americans played by Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux.

Justin Theroux has had a rough month.
Justin Theroux has had a rough month. ( Netflix )

With characters named Cactus and Duke, and with Duncan Jones at the helm, directing a movie in a genre with which he is most familiar, and certainly most adept, expectations were understandably high. Jones had even said that Mute was a spiritual sequel to his first film, the modern sci-fi masterpiece, Moon. He’d spent years trying to get it made, and finally, Netflix had put up the money.

I addressed this in my recent review of The Cloverfield Paradox, and it’s worth noting here again. It’s baffling to me how in the relatively short span of two years, Netflix has gone from being a destination for prestige content to being synonymous with mediocrity. The entertainment behemoth hasn’t made a single great film since Okja – and this coming from someone who liked their three biggest misfires, War Machine, Death Note and Bright. Sure, they’ve acquired several terrific independent movies, and have offered some of the greatest filmmakers working today – directors such as Ava DuVernay and Werner Herzog and Noah Baumbach – to realise their visions, but more often than not, these movies are kept hidden in some sort of crypt, while the latest Adam Sandler joint gets prime first scroll real estate.

Alexander Skarsgård has flirted with being an A-list movie star with mixed results.
Alexander Skarsgård has flirted with being an A-list movie star with mixed results. ( Netflix )

Mute is a frustratingly plotted movie because -- like David Michod and David Ayer and the dozens of other filmmakers like him -- the creative freedom online streaming offers brings out the makers’ most self-indulgent tendencies. I admire these guys. Moon is a gem of a film, as are Source Code and Warcraft. Mute was supposed to be special, but instead it’s a movie in which two parallel tracks – those of Paul Rudd and Alexander Skarsgard – through either negligence or carelessness, are joined. Trains will collide. They will derail. Lives will be lost.

Perhaps this story required more resources – the sets are pretty, but they’re overlit and underpopulated – and another pass at the script couldn’t have hurt – even dialogue scenes are edited with the intensity of a Jason Bourne fistfight, and for a film with a mute protagonist, there sure is a lot of talking. With the exception of Skarsgard, who’s has either deliberately or unknowingly convinced himself he’s in a Ryan Gosling-Nicolas Winding Refn movie, the rest of the cast is uniformly out of sync, each of them occupying drastically different corners of the same world.

Watch the Mute trailer here

And yet, despite all this, I can’t wait for what Duncan Jones does next. He has proven himself to be a remarkably insightful and humanistic filmmaker in the past. Like Leo, he has trouble expressing himself, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a voice.

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First Published: Feb 24, 2018 13:20 IST

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