Leo (Alexander Skarsgård) is a mute Amish bartender. He’s our protagonist. He can’t talk because his mother believed that a childhood injury would be healed by the power of God, and refused to let doctors try to save Leo’s ability to speak. That didn’t work. He’s made the best of it; he’s got a job and a girlfriend (Seyneb Saleh). Mute is set in the future, but he avoids most technologies because of his religion.
One day, she goes missing. His only clues are an old cellular phone that she gave him and he reluctantly accepted, and a notepad she previously wrote something on. Mute follows Leo as he searches for his girlfriend. Which proves to be an even bigger challenge due to (1) his inability to speak and (2) his anger issues. It also follows two US surgeons (Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux), whose role in the plot take a while to be revealed—and ultimately are only of moderate consequence.
The best aspects of Mute are the visuals. The vision of the future is very Blade Runner-esque, and getting to see that in another movie, wonderfully realized, is a joy. The various technological advances are interesting, although their overall importance isn’t significantly large. Leo drives around in an older car and his phone is only a bit more advanced than what we have currently; most of the more advanced technologies are relegated to the background. There isn’t much point to having it be set in the future—except to have the juxtaposition of this advanced technology and Amish protagonist, which would be neat if anything was done with it.
The story isn’t terribly engaging. There’s not a lot to the characters, which is an especially big problem for our protagonist. We know his motivation, and we can tell that he really cares about his girlfriend … and that’s all he’s got to him, beyond the whole “can’t speak” thing. And that winds up being more of a gimmick than anything else. Paul Rudd’s character gets a bit more to him than we initially think, and Rudd turns in a good performance that ranges from comedic to menacing. It’s a shame he wasn’t our lead; a better movie would follow him and only him (and maybe his mustache).
In order for its central plot to be engaging, it needed one of two things. The first is a compelling protagonist, but I’ve already mentioned it lacks that. The second is an engaging mystery. If we’re able to play along with the lead then, even if he isn’t particularly interesting, we’ll still have something to hold our attention. We can try to figure out who did what and why, and that’ll be enough. Mute‘s story is all over the place, only really adds up in the end, and is impossible to try to do anything by watch. It stays at an arm’s length; we never feel like we’re involved. We’re never emotionally or intellectually invested.
It’s all a little silly and a little convoluted, and not very engaging or interesting. Some of the performances are fine, but the story’s a bit of a mess and it ultimately struggles to hold our attention. Its protagonist is dull and the mystery isn’t something with which we can have any fun. The visuals are futuristic visuals are nice, although not a ton is done with the whole “it’s set in the future” aspect. Ultimately, Mute is a whole lot of potentially good ideas that don’t add up to very much.
Conclusion: Mute is a big mess.
Recommendation: While it’s better than director Duncan Jones‘ previous movie, Warcraft, Mute isn’t the return to form we were hoping for and isn’t really worth watching.