Let’s get this out of the way: i’m appreciative of everyone who’s donated to the Citizen Dame Patreon. Hell, I offered this up as a prize purely to help spur it….but I really didn’t want to have to write this.
You’re probably saying, “But Kristen, you watched it without knowing you were going to write on it. So it’s not like you weren’t already planning to subject yourself to it. And you’re a critic. Isn’t it your job to watch movies that might be terrible?” Yes, I did watch it. Justin Theroux is a cruel master who knows I’ll watch what he puts out. And, yes, I am a critic, but I try my damndest to avoid terrible crap like Mute. Let’s remember that the art of writing involves things like punctuation, capitalization, a lack of swearing, and a restraint on exclamation points. None of which factor into a review of Mute…..but I’m gonna try really fucking hard to get through this review without losing my shit!!!
Mute is the story of part-time Amish guy and full-time stud Leo (a very bored looking Alexander Skarsgard). Leo was hurt in a boat accident leaving him, say it with me now, mute. The only good thing in his life is his girlfriend, Naadirah (Seyneb Saleh). When Naadirah goes missing Leo is forced to go deep into the futuristic Berlin underworld he’s surrounded by to find her, putting him in touch with all manner of offensively stereotyped characters including two black-market surgeons, Catcus Bill and Duck (Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux, respectively…..dammit).
Where to begin with a movie that really can’t even make a compelling argument for its own existence? It’s hard to fathom why Duncan Jones pushed so hard to make this, writing this well before he made his claim to fame, the sci-fi Sam Rockwell-starrer, Moon in 2009. I could see a throwback to neo-noir set in a futuristic context, but there’s none of that here short of watching Skarsgard interview a random person here and there. There’s no mystery because it’s pretty easy to figure out that our leading lady is up and dead, and with so much time spent on the Rudd and Theroux characters it feels like Jones himself wasn’t particularly invested in solving the crime he laid out.
Like any good trash novel written in the ’40s, the mystery of the missing woman is really only a way to introduce a larger narrative regarding….something. There are various threads laid out that end up having NO BEARING on anything. Why is Leo Amish? Jones just seemed really interested in Amish people one day, I’m guessing. Why is there an emphasis on American troops going AWOL in Berlin? Because it sounds like something they’d do? Hell if I know. Why do we get multiple scenes of Leo downing a beer stein’s worth of water? Actual narrative convenience. (Seriously, the entire finale hinges on us knowing he drinks a lot of water.) The script situates bizarre elements as personality traits, failing to imbue them with anything other than…he’s a mute Amish guy. It has all the weight on the character of him being tall or blonde. And when he actually finds out what happened to Naadirah it, say it with me now, has no bearing on any of the threads left hanging in the breeze. The film is nothing more than an excuse to discuss domestic abuse and toxic masculinity….if you wanted those things to succeed.
Okay, I’m being mean. I’m not saying Jones himself subscribes to these things. But he doesn’t seem interested in them without making any comments on them for good or ill. All the characters either fall into stereotypes or are reprehensible, with Leo as the white bread in the middle. Skarsgard is fine. It’s not hard to look pained or confused while silent for 120 minutes so, kudos to him. Everyone is completely fine playing the characters written for them. My issue isn’t necessarily with any of the performers; I just question their logic in deciding to take a role in this.
And this brings me to the meat of Mute and its true terribleness. For starters, let’s talk misogyny – you knew it was coming! Mute makes Blade Runner 2049 look like Thelma and Louise in terms of its depiction of women. In Mute there are 2 types of women: whores and little girls, and the little girls are an inch away from being whores. Why? Because there are only two types of men in this world: sad white knights and utterly disgusting pieces of human trash. Oh, and gay men. But even then the movie categorizes gay men as either whores or child molesters. Yeah, I can’t advocate any members of the LGBTQ community watch this.
As far as the women are concerned, they’re little more than narrative catalysts. Objects solely to be owned or won. Naadirah is in love with Leo, but their relationship isn’t given any depth outside of her saying she loves him. Furthermore, this only leads Paul Rudd’s Cactus to be situated as a horrid man who believes she is his property, culminating with a literal “fridging.” Don’t know what “fridging” is? Feel free to bone up on it here. I’ll wait. After Naadirah is excised from the plot – in the first 15 minutes by my count – the movie transitions to its other “leading lady,” Cactus’ daughter Josie (played by twins Mia-Sophie Bastin and Lea-Marie Bastin). We know Cactus is desperate to get him and Josie out of Berlin, but it’s easily deduced that his loving father act is a means of controlling his daughter and avoiding a custody dispute with his ex – feel free to figure out how all these characters tie together….it’s not hard. So, once again, a female is only necessary for how a man can control her, and in this case Josie is a figure in even more danger because not only is her father controlling and isolating…she’s also at risk of being flat-out molested.
So, that brings us to Justin Theroux. who, for me, is the dude Dua Lipa sings about in “New Rules.” I love him, but holy shit does everything he make theatrically pain me. (This does not mean you should suggest other movies of his for me to review!) My apologies to Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. If this was meant to act as an audition for Justin Theroux to play Humbert Humbert in a remake of Lolita, I can see that. But this ain’t Lolita, so instead of “fire of my loins” we get him saying a line so disgusting my jaw was on the floor. Your mileage may vary on cringe-worthy lines, but he gets the award for the year. The problem is his character, Duck, is a child molester in the most casual sense, and it’s hard to really hate him when all the men are just as terrible. The film wants to make distinctions that, out of all the men we’ve met, this guy is the worst, but that’s like saying cancer is worse than plague. One just kills you quicker.
As far as acting goes, is it really a compliment to say Theroux plays a lecherous creep really well? (Again, I’m not kidding about him being perfect for a Lolita remake.) But if being good at your performance means having an incredibly weird conversation with a seven-year-old about going to France….then, score? Outside of the unnecessary pedophilia is the homosexual relationship beaten into the audiences’ head between Rudd and Theroux’s characters. The two constantly remind others, and the audience, about how they’ve had sex with each other which is meant to be funny? Really, I was unclear if the intent was to say gay people like reminding people of their homosexuality. It’s better than the movie making some tone deaf statement about a child molester being gay and/or using his homosexuality as a facade to commit heterosexual crimes.
By the end – and this is a 2-hour movie after all – I felt empty. Entirely devoid of feeling. Hearing Skarsgard talk by the end was nothing more than a reminder that the movie was over and I was free. I’m sick of men directing science fiction, as it often times becomes a glorified excuse to craft a world where women aren’t just invisible, but purely there for male gratification. Blade Runner 2049 isn’t absolved from doing this, but at least it has women in significant roles. At the very least they are present, and not solely objects to be fucked or murdered – although that does happen to them. As the late Roger Ebert once said, “I hated, hated, hated, absolutely fucking hated this piece of shit.” (Okay, I might have exaggerated but the intent was the same.) Mute is bad. Very bad. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. In fact, I’d be happy if Justin Theroux gave me $200 for my devotion.
I wait in dread of the new Theroux movie I get told I should review for your amusement.