There are times when you have a feeling that you might be in for a dreadful experience before you see the first scene in a movie. I had that from the start with Mute (2018). When you see enough movies, you become familiar with the different production companies active in the filmmaking business. This is not meant to be a preamble to me saying that the only good movies come from Disney, Warner Brothers, or Focus Features, to name a few. If you are up to attending the theater these days, you will likely see a film made by a familiar company, if you pay attention to such things. Everything else, including the majority of the offerings on streaming services like Netflix, are made by . . . others. Of course, there are some hidden gems among them, but the amount of crap you have to wade through to get to them is arduous. Mute falls into the latter of those categories.
There is not much to say about the plot of Mute, which is remarkable considering there are two main characters. You would think that with such complexity there would be more happening. It wants Leo (Alexander Skarsgård) to be the starring role. The film begins with him as a child (Levi Eisenblätter) floating motionless in the water, deep gashes on his chest and neck. Though he survives, it renders him with the title condition. They also decide to make him Amish for no obvious reason. Fast forward thirty years and Leo is apparently not living in an ordnung (an Amish community, basically), but instead a big, technologically advanced city. So jarring is the shift in settings that for a moment I thought a different movie had begun. Leo still lives a semi-technology-less lifestyle, but his girlfriend, Naadirah (Seyneb Saleh), blue hair and all, does not. They work together at a nearby watering hole. He is a bartender, she is a waitress. The first night we see them at the bar, there is another person there watching over the proceedings. This is Cactus Bill, (Paul Rudd) an American doctor stuck in Germany. He performs off-the-book medical procedures for local criminals, the result of him being absent without leave (AWOL) from the army. During this night, we see that Leo is quite protective of Naadirah, a gesture by which she is touched but claims she does not need. Later, back at Leo’s place, she says there is something about her that he does not know. Initially, he thinks she is going to leave him, but when she puts that fear to rest, he ends the, er . . . conversation(?) by telling (writing) her that nothing else matters. When he wakes up the next morning, she is gone. From there begins a series of scenes of him looking for her. His search takes him into the seediest areas of the city, but his progress is frustratingly slow . . . and vague . . . and confusing. Interspersed with these moments are cut backs to Cactus Bill’s story. He is very determined to get the necessary documentation he needs for him and his daughter, Josie (Mia-Sophie and Lea-Marie Bastin), to return to the United States, and will not let any perceived threats derail him from his goal. This includes his so-called friend Duck (Justin Theroux). Duck seems to be a pedophile, but is another American wanting to see his home again. Hence, despite Cactus Bill’s misgivings, they partner up in performing their illegal procedures. I think. Anyway, Leo is causing problems for Cactus Bill’s clientele, but outside of a brief, random meeting in a coffee shop, we do not discover their relationship to one another until the end. Naadirah is Josie’s mother, and Naadirah had been kidnapped and murdered by Cactus Bill because, I guess, he thought she was going to take Josie from him. Leo ends up killing Cactus Bill and finding Naadirah’s corpse. Duck walks in on the carnage after it is over, and knocks out Leo. Bear with me, here, for a little while longer. I was literally begging the film to end at this point. Getting back to Duck, he decides to give Leo an artificial voice box because the doctor wanted to hear Leo say he is sorry for killing Cactus Bill. When Leo remains, well, mute, Duck ducks takes Leo and Josie out into the countryside to throw Leo off a bridge. Instead, Leo manages to drown Duck, and the film ends with him on the way to taking Josie to her grandmother.
I could spend a whole segment of what does not make sense in Mute on this ending. Bear in mind that Duck had rendered Leo unconscious and had the larger man tied down while inserting the electronic voice box. If Duck wanted Leo dead, why not do it while he has the opportunity? Instead, Duck had to drive out to where a picture of Naadirah had been taken, one that Leo used while looking for her, in order to dispose of her former lover? There is so much in this movie that is mentioned and then goes absolutely nowhere. Take the fact that Leo is Amish, for instance. A writer of a movie can make their main character anything. They can be twenty-seven feet tall with elephant trunks for earlobes. Usually, the events of the film will feature them trying to overcome or deal with whatever challenges those characteristics bring them. They did this with the fact that he could not speak. His Amish-ness is a side-note that is barely mentioned. There is one bit of technology in one scene that he needs a little help with, and he is good at woodworking. That is it. Another major problem with the film is the overload of characters. There was more than one occasion where a name of somebody in the film is mentioned and I could not for the life of me remember who it was or why that person was important. I also did not like how they handled Cactus Bill. At times, he seemed sympathetic, particularly in how he cared for his daughter. Yet, when he needed to do something “important,” he would leave her in the care of a prostitute? I get the desire to want to return home and doing what you can to make that happen, but he acted like a jerk towards everyone, including Duck. He also murders Naadirah. This last act, as unfortunate as it is that it happened, is laughable in its execution. Towards the end when all is (finally) revealed, we see how he ends her life. It is a horrible way to go, apparently trapped and suffocating. When Leo finds her a few moments later, we see that it was a human sized plastic bag that he easily tears open. Why could she have not done this herself, particularly when we see her struggling?
I suppose the Catholic in me will say kudos to Leo at the end of Mute for caring for Josie. Orphans have been cared for by the Church for centuries, so there is at least a brief alignment of ideals. Otherwise, there is no earthly reason for watching this movie. It is a confusing mess, there are nude scenes (including one where Leo creepily watches Naadirah take a shower), unnecessary violence, and old guys being perverts. Avoid.