Mute (2018)

Distributed by Neflix and widely panned by critics, Mute is an SF/noir movie directed by Duncan Jones and set (spoiler alert) in continuity with Moon. I liked this quite a bit more than the average critic, but I won't deny it was a deeply flawed film.

If you hear the words "SF/noir" and immediately think of Blade Runner, you have the right idea - Duncan was quite open about drawing his inspiration from Ridley Scott.

Oh, also it's set at Christmas. I was a little surprised by that - I put it on because I'm a fan of the genre (the SF/noir genre, I mean, though obviously I'm also a fan of Christmas movies). It wasn't until decorations started popping up that I realized I'd be writing a review. More on all that in a bit.

Set in the not-too-distant future of 2035, Mute follows two plot lines simultaneously. The ostensible POV character is Leo, a mute Amish man living and working in Berlin. He more or less lives for his girlfriend, Naadirah, a blue-haired waitress at the bar Leo tends. Naadirah vanishes, and Leo sets out on a quest to find her.

He shares the movie with Cactus Bill, an ex-military surgeon now working for crime lords, along with his best friend, Duck. Cactus Bill is primarily focused on trying to get forged documents that will get him and his daughter out of the country.

The movie's plot is essentially a winding trail that eventually leads the men together, when (surprise, surprise) we discover Cactus Bill was behind Naadirah's disappearance. That part (again: surprise, surprise) doesn't end happily. Turns out Bill had a history (and a daughter) with Naadirah. She was trying to get custody, so he kidnapped and murdered her.

I'm glossing over a whole lot of details concerning multiple prostitution rings, robotic exotic dancing, and an entire subplot where Bill discovers Duck is a pedophile. Very little of this ultimately felt significant to the central story, though it did a decent job developing tone and character. Cactus Bill, in particular, was far more fleshed out than you'd expect from what's essentially the movie's villain.

The ending was a little drawn out. Following a sequence where Bill threatens Duck, Duck tips off Leo, who gets hold of Bill's papers, goes to Bill's house, discovers Naadirah's body, then kills Bill. Duck, however, captures Leo and surgically installs cybernetic vocal cords, all in the hopes of eliciting an apology for Bill's death. He's also planning to kill Leo, of course, but he really wants that apology.

I realize that sounds absurd, but - to the movie's credit - they sold Duck's building insanity throughout the movie. I'm a little less forgiving of the pacing at this point - all of this stretched the ending out far too long before the inevitable twist where Leo gets the drop on Duck and takes the orphaned child to her grandmother.

You may have noticed I never once mentioned "Christmas" in the synopsis: that's because it never once came up. I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't in the script, at all - I didn't notice a single line of dialogue acknowledging the holiday. But while it wasn't a plot point, it was certainly present in the form of decorated trees and shops. There's even a sequence with Bill and Duck in a mall where Christmas music features predominantly.

By now, I suspect you know the drill. This was either an attempt to tie the theme back to the significance of parentage (especially adoptive parentage, since Leo seemed to be stepping into that role), or it was all just there for contrast (or even more likely, both were factors in the decision to set this around the holidays). Whatever - we've seen all this before.

In terms of quality, this was a mixed bag. Personally, I enjoy genre for genre's sake - particularly when that genre is SF/noir in the vein of Blade Runner. And that's fortunate, because - unlike Blade Runner - Mute doesn't really use its genre beyond tone and setting. Oh, there are a handful of plot elements that touch on science fiction (the cybernetic voice box being the most significant), but none of these are all that essential.

In other words, you could really have told the same noir story of a mute Amish bartender trying to find his missing girlfriend using the modern day as a backdrop. Like the holiday elements, all the SF stuff was really just window dressing.

But, again, I like that window dressing. If you feel differently, this definitely isn't the movie for you. But if you do get a kick out of a well-executed cyberpunk aesthetic, you could do a lot worse than giving this a chance. Likewise, if you really loved Moon, this might be worth checking out for the Easter Eggs alone.

I get the feeling some critics are a tad harsher on movies distributed by Netflix. It's not that this or The Cloverfield Paradox were perfect, but both made me raise an eyebrow when I saw their Freshness ratings below 20%. Something in the mid 40's would make more sense. There's a lot to dislike here, but there's enough this does right I'd expect a few more reviewers to give it a pass.