The recently-released Netflix film “Mute,” directed by Duncan Jones, is a modern-day Frankenstein of outsourced sci-fi ideas (i.e. Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049, etc.). Despite its “ripped from celluloid” vibe, the visuals created by Jones end up being way more vibrant than the film’s characters or ostensible lead plot.
The film takes place in a seemingly-normal future, where typical professions and lives are still carried out with the addition of futuristic framing such as flying cars. This setting is normal enough infrastructure-wise to make one wonder why the director did not just set the storyline in the present day. A mute bartender goes on a rampage through a futuristic criminal underground in search of his mysteriously missing girlfriend, while two criminally-employed surgeons try to pay off their debts to a criminal organization and start new lives.
The lead character in the film, Leo, is played by Alexander Skarsgård in an atypically reserved fashion that tends to clash tonally with the theatrical levels the storyline and violence of film are working on. Both Leo and his missing girlfriend Naadirah, played by Seyneb Saleh, often seem like they are a part of a completely different film, both in their paced and realistic acting styles as well as the storyline they are a part of.
Surprisingly, the most important plot thread in the film comes from a cast-against-type Paul Rudd playing a surgeon, and Justin Theroux (wearing one of the worst wigs in recent film history) as his surgeon buddy, who are both involved in black-market surgeries due to circumstances beyond their control.
Through a series of seemingly-random events, Rudd’s surgeon becomes involved with Skarsgård’s Leo as he attempts to extricate himself and his daughter from the futuristic criminal hell they are currently stuck in. Rudd’s character begins as a vehicle of humor and ultimately becomes something entirely different, one of the film’s few tonal twists that actually works to the benefit of the whole.
The tone of the film consistently jumps from genre-touchstone to genre-touchstone, hitting marks within the fields of noir, sci-fi, comedy, family drama and horror. These shifts in tone come at the expense of any sort of organic growth and instead make each disparate element seem as if they belong in a movie of their own.
This inability to identify an optimal audience may have been the reason that this film was ultimately dumped in the Netflix original film scrapheap, a pile that also includes recent let-downs such as “The Cloverfield Paradox” and “When We First Met.”
Overall, “Mute” is a film that seems as if it was initially written as two separate films, operating in different genres, that ultimately were fused together artificially and placed into the window-dressing of a slightly dystopian future. This vibe permeates throughout the entire film, from visuals to direction to plot, and ultimately derails any interest the viewer might have held in either of the pairs of lead characters’ storylines. Director Duncan Jones may want to cook with a more standard range of ingredients in his next entry into the cinematic canon.