Duncan Jones pays homage to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, but also reflects a world that is very familiar.
Ridley Scott’s vision of 2019 was once seen as a far-fetched almost fantasy-like reality, but now that we are a mere year away from 2019, it is clear that the world today is morphing into the world depicted in the original Blade Runner and its sequel, Blade Runner 2049. Mute falls neatly in place with this line up as it visually and narratively fits into the world so clearly inspired by Scott and Philip K. Dick.
If you binged Altered Carbon and are still craving more of this dark and gritty world filled with lots of rain and neon lights, then Netflix has a gift for you. Mute takes place in 2052 Berlin, a distant future that’s still familiar. We follow Leo (Alexander Skarsgård), the titular mute. He lives a quiet simple life as a bartender and is in a loving relationship with Naadirah (Seyneb Saleh). Naadirah begins to act strange and when she mysteriously disappears, Leo sets out to find her in an unforgiving city. Along the way he crosses paths with an array of interesting characters including two American surgeons, Cactus and Duck, played by Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux.
There are now replicants running around, intent on destroying their makers. Mute is a simple tale of one man’s mission to find his missing love, who may have been mixed up in dangerous things. By placing the story in a near-future sci-fi, Jones is enabling audiences to explore aspects of this reality in ways Blade Runner and Altered Carbon are not quite able to. He grounds the future with settings and characters we can all identify in modern day. We know sleazy business men like Stuart and Rob. The mobs shady dealings with surgeons are not fiction. Women and men merely trying to survive poor economic situations is nothing new and won’t magically disappear once we have hover cars. As we navigate the city with Leo, Jones is familiarizing us with the everyday life of the future. Mute grounds all the big ideas of science fiction. It really is an indie with a sci-fi backdrop.
The acting is superb across the board, the standout being Skarsgård playing Leo. He is stoic, vulnerable, sweet, determined, confused, and angry. Skarsgård is able to convey so much of Leo’s fears and anxiety with a simple look. It’s quiet a performance and proves that Skarsgård is a true talent who can play against type. The other notable performances come from Rudd, Theroux and a surprising appearance by Robert Sheehan as Luba, an androgynous pan-sexual escort. Skarsgård and Saleh are the emotional core of the film, whereas the other characters are zany and cartoonish. They represent the complex morality, or lack thereof, in a world where humanity hasn’t advanced as fast as the technology that surrounds it.
There are some interesting twist and turns regarding these characters and how they fit into the mystery, but unfortunately the character we see the least of is the most interesting, Naadirah. Naadirah is the most fascinating character and I wish that Jones had instead focused on her and her journey. There is much about her story that would warrant its own film, but sadly she is the girlfriend in a Blade Runner-esque sci-fi. She is a waitress who is working on bettering her life. She has secrets and dealings with shady people, maybe even the mob.
All in all this is a well crafted indie within a sci-fi spectacle. The story is small, the world is big. If you are a fan of simply inhabiting these futuristic worlds and you get a kick out of the familiar aspects, Mute is certainly the movie for you.