Netflix's new science fiction movie Mute is about a mute Amish bartender (Alexander Skarsgard) who stops at nothing to find his girlfriend after she goes missing, while a mob doctor (Paul Rudd) tries to find papers for him to escape from the country.
Mute's biggest problem is a wide swinging story with little focus on tone, character or setting. The story seems to focus on Skarsgard's Leo, but instead we're shown far more scenes of Rudd and Justin Theroux, another doctor. This makes the urgency behind Skarsgard's search for his girlfriend contrived and forced.
Rudd's character has moments of humor, but they feel misplaced, making his performance manic and inconsistent. Complete shifts of tone force the question of what the movie is even supposed to be about, and who the main character even is.
Mute attempts to pull off what other movies did better. The Shape of Water better develops its silent lead character. Blade Runner 2049 developed a better, colorful future environment for setting. A brief Sam Rockwell cameo of his character from another of director Duncan Jones' movies, Moon, reminds of another film we'd rather be watching. And Paul Rudd is way funnier in Ant-Man.
The brightly colored, futuristic, neo-city of Berlin is underdeveloped, and we aren't shown enough about how the city works to understand the plot. The setting is just the future, and the design is colorful. It isn't made clear which sci-fi movie Mute is stealing from, so we can't learn anything about how this future world works.
We also don't get to know the characters well enough to understand their motivation or morals. At one point, Rudd has an intense scene with Theroux where he finds out Theroux has been molesting his younger female patients. After yelling at Theroux to stay away from his daughter, Rudd learns he can finally leave the country, and happily invites Theroux to the mall, where he then steals peanuts, and gets in an altercation with a security guard. It's bizarre and seems like an unnatural way to bring Rudd and Skarsgard's stories together.
Even then, when the reveal of what's been really going on with Leo's girlfriend hits, it deflates the movie further. Rudd and Skarsgard's stories intersect, and then limps to the finish line, seemingly ending four times.
The wrap up makes no sense. Theroux's character at one minute teases and mocks a dying Rudd, then scenes later he screams at Skarsgard to apologize for Rudd's death. The film concludes with Skarsgard now looking after Rudd's daughter, though he has no real claim, emotionally or otherwise, that would indicate he would take care of her.
The movie sprints to get to its tension, then lounges around and chews the scenery. When the plot finally does resolve itself, if it can be called that, it collapses, as if some grand effort has just been carried off, when in reality, it's convoluted and feels incomplete.
Mute's biggest success is that it's colorful. Certain moments of levity distract from the misguided absurdity, and for the vast majority of the film's run time, there's something neon and glowing to look at.