FILM REVIEW: Mute

The gunshot rang out through the empty club as silence slowly reclaimed her hold on the room. It was done. Weeks of only catching minutes of sleep, every meal being whatever would fit in one clenched fist but I had done it. The Fenchurch Crime family was no more. Gregory Fenchurch still twitched at my feet, in a pool of blood.

A door creaked behind me, I span on my heels taking cover behind the bar and raised my weapon. A moment of silence and then the squeaking wheels of a cleaning cart cut through the ringing in my ears.

The cleaner was an older woman in a pristine blue apron over a worn tracksuit. She wore large headphones that must have protected her ears from my rampage. She was smiling to herself as she lifted the mop out of the cart but it didn’t make it very far. Her scream and the clattering of the mop filled the room as she saw the bodies.

I stood up and waved for her to calm down before I remembered the gun. She screamed again.

“Please, don’t kill me, I just work here, I’m just a cleaner, please -”, she begged as she pulled the headphones off then raised her hands above her head.

“I’m not going to hurt you”, I put the gun down on the bar, “I’m not going to hurt you, I swear. I’m leaving, the police will be here soon”

“Did you do this?”, she pointed to the scattered bodies of the henchmen.

“They got what they deserved.”

“Mr Fenchurch is a good man, why did you do this?”

My mind wandered to that day. The day I met Mr Fenchurch and all this began.

I was waiting, patiently at the Sainsbury’s Self-Checkout when a woman with a child finished taking forever bagging her groceries and moved away. As I stepped forward, a tall man with slick hair pushed past me, he wore an expensive dark blue suit and a long grey coat.

“Excuse me, mate. I think I was first”, I said.

“Oh, sorry, fellah. Didn’t see ya there. You take it”

“Nah, it’s fine,” my eyes narrowed, “You go ahead, it’s fine.”

But it wasn’t fine.

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Mute is either a decent revenge film where the protagonist isn’t quite sure what he’s revenging about or it’s a decent mystery where the audience isn’t quite sure what the mystery is. Side-note: I just found out that “revenging” is a word. I wrote it, assuming the red squiggly line, (referred to, in the trade, as an “umactually”) would swoop in to correct me but, alas, I didn’t even get the satisfaction of actually-that’s-what-I-meant-to-write-ing the spellcheck. We’re off to a great start, aren’t we? Come for the review, stay for the rambling.

I had heard some mixed things about Mute before I saw it, and it is by no means without its problems but as I sit down to write this, I think I quite liked it.

Mute follows Leo (Alexander Skarsgård), injured as a child, and forbidden treatment by his Amish parents, cannot speak. For some reason, instead of living in a rural area away from the hubbub of modern life, he lives in futuristic Berlin and works at a nightclub as a bartender. While it seems incongruous it does allow for the film to actually happen. In keeping with Amish tradition (on which I have done zero research) he shuns technology and lives a simple life, in a high-rise apartment. The trouble starts here for the premise of the whole movie. Although, we certainly see the gaudy, futuristic world around him, we don’t see a huge number of examples of how his day to day is different from everyone else’s. He doesn’t use a phone sure, but he’s using a kettle. Are other people using kettles? Or are there hydro-lasers that shoot superheated water straight into a waiting hyper-cup? I’m not sure. He also doesn’t seem particularly religious. I mean, he’s Amish certainly, he’s got the suspenders and everything but I didn’t see any icons or texts around, but then again, I know next to nothing about the Amish faith so… y’know… there’s that. It leaves the audience without much information or background on the character and no real sense of connection. We’re supposed to be rooting for him, I get that, but he can’t talk, and if you’re not going to show us anything that helps us really get to know him then we’re sort of stuffed aren’t we?

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What do you think of when you I say “Futuristic City”? I’m guessing you’ve got some combination of Akira, Blade Runner, Fifth Element, Ghost In The Shell, Minority Report and a few of your personal favourites. That kind of thing. Dark skyline in front of a sickly green glow, neon on every building, holograms, advert blimps, spot lights shooting up into the sky etc etc. But it’s sort of becoming a problem for me. They all look the same. We, currently, live in what people in the past would’ve called the future (It’s Capt. Tautology with his sidekick Circular Argument Boy), and while there is some neon around, it’s going to need to proliferate exponentially if we’re going to stay on track for what cinema has predicted. It just feels like future shorthand. Neon, rainy streets, food vendors, garbage everywhere, flying cars. It feels very unsatisfying. Especially, after how well it worked in Blade Runner 2049 with its varied settings, tones and colour palettes. Not that I have any better ideas, by the way, I just think there’s more room for movement than filmmakers (Or possibly studios) are allowing themselves.

The film moves along at a fairly good pace, there aren’t really any dull bits. We’re introduced to the Leo’s girlfriend, Naadirah (Seyneb Saleh) around whom the rest of the film essentially revolves. As she states – repeatedly – she has a terrible secret that she’s keeping from Leo.

“There’s something I need to tell you”

Yeah, we get it. You’ve got a secret, we get it. Everybody gets it. It does, to be fair, go on to be important but it feels a little patronising at the time.

The main villains are Cactus Bill (yes, that’s correct) played by Paul Rudd and his old army buddy Duck (Justin Theroux). They are both Medics and whilst Duck has settled in Berlin, Cactus Bill is AWOL from the army and is trying to secure documents in order to return to the US. The film spends a good amount of time letting us get to know Cactus William (presumably his full name) but it seems to flip-flop between wanting us to be sympathetic towards him and hate him. Usually, this approach is to give shades of grey to a character: He’s not all bad, he loves his daughter, Josie (Mia-Sophie Bastin, Lea-Marie Bastin), but he’ll do terrible things in order to protect her. He also makes some choices at the end that really cost him in terms of good guy points. The rest of the film doesn’t have (or need) a huge amount of shade to it, though, so it felt a little out of place. Leo is pretty one-dimensional, and it doesn’t hurt the film. Plus it was a bit hard to take Paul Rudd seriously in a dramatic role, but that may have been my fault more than his. He’s just too darn funny.

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The rest of the film is generally entertaining. Naadirah goes missing and Leo follows the clues to track her down, making enemies along the way. The action is competent and pleasantly sparse. There is a little bit of a pacing issue at the end when the film feels like it’s coming to a close and then realises it’s got some strings to tie up and tacks a little coda on the end. It was a little jarring but I will begrudgingly admit that it did make sense. There’s a great Dominic Monaghan cameo, though and a couple of not-so-subtle references to Moon.

Overall, I enjoyed Mute. It was a bold choice to have a silent protagonist but neither that nor the Amish angle felt particularly justified. I want to know more about what Leo’s life is like. Does he like living in the city? Why does he live there? Does he have friends? I just didn’t feel like I knew him. It was almost like two scripts that got smooshed together. Or someone had a script that was “Amish guy looks for lost girlfriend in a world he doesn’t understand” and then a studio executive said “Make it a Blade Runner. People love a Blade Runner. Get some Blade Runner and spread it all over that shit.”

In summary, Mute is entertaining but ultimately unsatisfying due to characterisation problems.

score 3

REVIEW BY SAM RAE

MUTE is currently available in Netflix

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