Check out my review of the new sci-fi film Mute, now on Netflix.
Synopsis: Berlin, the future, but close enough to feel familiar: In this loud, often brutal city, Leo – unable to speak from a childhood accident – searches for his missing girlfriend, the love of his life, his salvation, through dark streets, frenzied plazas, and the full spectrum of the cities shadow-dwellers. As he seeks answers, Leo finds himself mixed up with Cactus Bill and Duck, a pair of irreverent US army surgeons on a mission all their own. (Netflix)
Starring: Alexander Skarsgård, Paul Rudd, and Justin Theroux
Writers: Michael Robert Johnson and Duncan Jones
Director: Duncan Jones
Running Time: 126mins
Being mute definitely isn’t easy, especially when you’re alone in a large, futuristic city. This was the case here. As the title suggests, the film is about a mute man named Leo (Skarsgård) who must venture out into a futuristic Berlin underworld to find his girlfriend Naadirah (Seyneb Saleh) after she disappears under mysterious circumstances. There’s also a pair of AWOL US army surgeons named Cactus Bill (Rudd) and Duck (Theroux).
One of the problems with this film was that there were so many story threads that never seemed to fit together. Over the course of a 2+ hour film, this starts to add up and makes it difficult to ever fully invest in the story and a chore to watch. The most compelling part of the film is Leo. He’s a kind soul who obviously loved Naadirah but the story failed to establish why she’s worth caring about or even saving as she disappeared before we got to learn anything about her other than a vague declaration by her of not being a good person.
Over the course of Leo’s search, we sort of vaguely learn the truth about Naadirah as he jumps around from place to place, seemingly missing her every time. As much as he didn’t understand the world he was entering, they didn’t understand him either. This all felt similar to another film called Good Time but that search was much more compelling to watch. Instead we learn more about the intricacies behind the Berlin mob for whom she played some sort of part in. After a while, it became hard to follow and too convoluted to ever get invested or care.
Cactus Bill and Duck were just there as the story hints at US looking for soldiers who have gone AWOL after a new war in Afghanistan. The film hints at this and their relationship but it never went into either with any detail. Ultimately, they were another part of the film that was difficult to care about. Their story seemingly went nowhere until everything finally came together and made the story even more convoluted. Once they become involved in the story, their impact was minimal at best.
One of the big draws could have been the futuristic city of Berlin yet the film failed to utilize its ambitious, Blade Runner-esque, backdrop, by relegating it to the background. It may have been beautiful to look, however, it was also disappointing as there was so much potential there but the film did next to nothing with it. What made it even more disappointing was that it was more interesting than the story itself. It was still the best part of what was a so-so film at best.
The acting was decent and all the actors did their best with what little they had and how little character development there was. Skarsgård as Leo was the best of the group as the only likable character. Despite not being able to talk, he still showed a decent amount emotion. He was the only thing compelling to watch while not letting himself get swallowed up by the setting. Rudd as Cactus Bill was a confusing character to follow. Was he a comic relief or was he a villain? Either way, he wasn’t funny, likable, or believable as a villain. Theroux as Duck was a pointless character whose only purpose seemed to be as Cactus Bill’s sounding board.
Overall, this was an ambitious but messy sci-fi film with plenty of story threads that never seemed to fit together and was full of unlikable and underdeveloped characters. Both add up over its 2+ hour running time, making it a chore to watch. Diehard sci-fi fans should still find enough to enjoy here, however, there are better offerings out there.