Berlin: the future. Leo (Alexander Skarsgård) was brought up in the Amish faith, but had to move to Germany some years ago. He is unusual in that he is a mute, after his throat was slashed by an outboard motor as a child when out swimming, mangling his vocal chords, one reason he feels alienated from the bustling world of the city. But one reason he feels a connection is his girlfriend, Naadirah (Seyneb Saleh), who thinks everything of him and helps him through what could be a disability that closed him off. They work at the same nightclub, he as a bartender and she as a waitress, but there's something she is not telling him, and they may not be together much longer...
Mute was a dream project of director Duncan Jones, if he was to be believed this was what he had spent his career building up to, and when it landed with an almighty thud on Netflix, many of those who had followed that career thought, some mishtake shurely? This was what you had been working towards for the past couple of decades? Did something go wrong somewhere between script (which had not started life as a science fiction movie) and the editing, because it definitely looked like it? That release, mostly on the internet but with selected cinema screenings for those who still went out for their entertainment of an evening, should have set off alarm bells.
Netflix, on this evidence, was happy to turn itself into a dumping ground for duds which could have a campaign that mostly rested on the fact you could watch their product in your pyjamas, and needed about that degree of engagement with what was playing out on the screen. There was no demand on the viewer, once you had paid your subscription the thinking seemed to be you would be content with any old shit as long as it had enough moving shapes and flashing colours, and the science fiction genre appeared to be the worst offender for that. Note that this was largely consigned to their movies, as their television series were of far more value and indicated this was their better market.
Mute was a case in point, a shapeless, ugly-looking, morally dubious ramble that barely requested you to follow it to any great level of engagement, simply sit dazed before it and two hours later you would have consumed a film. As if its meagre entertainment was not crime enough, Jones managed to coax a terrible performance out of Paul Rudd, one of the most reliable stars of his era, as he and Justin Theroux, rivalling each other for worst tonsorial choices (Rudd: moustache, Theroux: dirty blonde wig) essayed the roles of rogue surgeons in one of the least appetising double acts of its decade. One of these was superfluously violent, the other was sleazy, and that was to the point of indulging in paedophilia, which may be somebody's idea of amusing but it certainly would not be most of ours.
When Naadirah (who apparently took makeup and hair tips from Gary Numan circa mid-1980s) goes missing, it's Leo's cue to go all Moose Malloy and set out across the city to find her, doling out his own brand of brutality in a manner that, as with everyone else here was offputting in the extreme, but was supposed to be excusable since the people he encounters are largely awful. If there was a film noir angle here, it was buried under an avalanche of fuzzy plotting that merely confused and bored, when it was not being actively objectionable. Even Leo's resolution with the love of his life was utterly lacking in triumph, and complicated by the presence of a child in peril that was not exciting or suspenseful but was unpleasant. The confounding thing was that Jones dedicated this to his father and nanny, but good luck working out why; it was supposed to be set in the universe of his debut, cult hit Moon, but might as well have been light years away in quality. No gloating here, it was a genuine shame to see promise like that so completely fizzle. Music by Clint Mansell.