Sunday 25 February 2018
Directed by Duncan Jones
Curzon Soho Screening 24/2/18
Duncan Jones is another one of those directors I've not really been sure of over the years. Kinda liked Moon (reviewed here), kinda didn't like Source Code (reviewed here) all that much and I didn't bother with Warcraft because I've never played the World of Warcraft game on which it's based (although I've heard it's a pretty good movie). I kinda got interested in Mute when I saw the director begin tweeting about it a while back but it's a film I nearly didn't get to see.
Why? One word... Netflix.
I'm not opposed to subscription channels as a whole. They have to make their money and I know Jones talks very highly of them in terms of getting the funding together to make this movie, which has been gestating for a very long time, from what I understand. So good for Netflix on that score. What I do object to is making these things exclusive to a channel as pretty much the only commercial option to both a main stream theatrical release and a physical media release. What that means is that people like myself who either can't justify the expense of subscribing or won't subscribe due to not wanting to what amounts to 'borrowing' a film from someone (via streaming, when it's actually deemed available, that is) as opposed to actually owning your own copy which you can put on your player anytime you want.
Furthermore, it's both a blow against the art of film and also something which is going lose money which the backers could have made back on a physical release.
To explain, films like this deserve to be seen on a cinema screen (especially a film like Mute... I'll get to it in a minute, I promise). They are made to be experienced on a big screen and you lack a little something if you've only watched it on your 'so smart' TV, iPad, computer or mobile phone. This is not what cinema is about. Also, the availability of cinemas in urban centres is a lot more accessible than having to sign up for a channel... especially if you only get to watch TV say, once a month if you're lucky.
As far as the people involved losing money? Well, as I said, not everybody is able to, or wants to, access Netflix. Which means the distribution of films like this are driven underground. I've already been offered a free copy of the movie on disc and at least one stranger on my daily bus ride to and from work just this week has told me about various 'free' streaming channels where I can watch all the newest movies without ever paying a penny. And it's not like I was even asking. So, yeah, I strongly believe Netflix should rethink their "exclusive to" business model because, you know, if people really want to see it without Netflix... I suspect they'll find a way.
Anyway... onto the movie because I got lucky on this one and spotted that the Curzon chain of cinemas in the UK have organised 'one a day' screenings of the film and I managed to get myself to one of these. Of course, the irony here is that the ticket cost me much more than the price of a month's subscription to Netflix but, having seen how visually rich and striking this one is, I'm kinda really glad I got to see it at the natural environment for the art of film... the cinema.
Out of the, admittedly small, amount of this director's films I've seen to date, I think Mute is my favourite.
The film starts as strongly as it continues with the main protagonist Leo as a boy where we see just why he is, as the title of the movie says, mute. We also see that the quaker family he was born into does nothing concrete to stop this condition from remaining and that's really all we need to know about this background so the rest of the movie, set many years later, shows Alexander Skarsgård playing Leo, who works as a barman in a night club with his girlfriend Naadirah, played by Seyneb Saleh.
The story is set in the future and it seems to be around the same time that Jones' first feature, Moon was set. I know this because Sam Rockwell reprises his role as both Sam Bell and his clones in a cameo (basically making this movie MOON 2, in all but name). It would be true to say this futuristic environment in which this old 1940s style noir plot plays out is an extremely well crafted future version of Berlin. It would also be true to say that, with its occasional flying cars, overpopulated cityscapes and neon candy lighting, the film pays more than a little homage to Ridley Scott’s early masterpiece Blade Runner (reviewed by me here). In fact, it looks so much like it that it’s way much more true to the look and feel of that movie than the official sequel which was released last year. Mute truly captures the ‘designer gritty’ spectacle that Blade Runner 2049 (reviewed here) was lacking, as far as I’m concerned.
The film has a wonderful set up which gives you a glimps into the romance between the two main characters before going into a somewhat clichéd but no less effective film noir style mystery... as Naadirah goes missing and Leo has to try and discover what’s been going on in her life for this to happen and try to find her. It’s a simple set up and it follows a clear path towards an end goal while showcasing a credible world of future wonders and sleazy corruption.
The actors are razor sharp too.
This is one of Alexander Skarsgård’s greatest performances, if not his best, as he uses his facial expressions and body language to portray what’s going on in the head of the main protagonist. Seyneb Saleh is wonderful but, sadly, not in the film as much as I would have liked. Then you have Ant-Man himself, Paul Rudd, playing a kind of gangster’s doctor called Cactus Bill with his fellow surgeon Duck, played by Justin Theroux. Rudd is fantastic in this and the back and forth between him and Theroux, when they’re performing surgery or, in one case, a surgically inspired interrogation, is a deliberate and continued reference, both in look and dialogue delivery, to Trapper John and Hawkeye Pierce in the original Robert Altman movie version of MASH. It seems strange to have this here but it really works well, I have to say.
The film also has wonderful music from Clint Mansell, who scored Moon for Jones. Again, like the film itself, this wonderful score could almost be a sequel to the score for Blade Runner, with a little bit of Moon thrown in for good measure at some points. I really liked this and would buy it in a heartbeat if they would just give it a CD release. It seems odd that a masterwork of a score like this (and the same composer's score for the live action Ghost In The Shell, reviewed here) has not been given a proper soundtrack release. This needs to happen soon people. It’s a crime against filmanity... as is Netflix’s decision to hold this one back from a proper cinema release but... let’s not go there again.
The film seems to have polarised audiences with a lot of critics saying that the story keeps going off in different directions and tangents. That wasn’t my experience of it at all, I have to say. If anything the plot line was too simplistic, in a way... but the story line was always in plain sight and, although we kept cutting between two of the main character’s adventures (as we do in numerous films), it seemed pretty clear what was happening and its relevance to the ongoing story. I really think that if the newspaper critics couldn’t follow a storyline which, in all honesty, doesn’t have much of a complex tale to tell then... well... we really are in trouble, aren’t we?
My one slight grumble was that the film maybe went on a little too long past what I thought was its natural ending. I really didn’t think the last 15 or so minutes added much other than a slight shot at optimism for a couple of the characters. I really didn’t need to see anything more after Leo finds out just what happened to his girlfriend and I think a certain shot of him sitting under a tree would have been a better place for an ending to come.
It’s a minor grumble though and, for my part, I’d recommend Mute as both a great film and, most definitely, something which you should catch in its native habitat, i.e. - the cinema. If you like science fiction with a lot of heart, or 1940s film noirs for that matter, then Mute is for you. Dystopian societies this well realised are a bit of a rarity in cinema and this one is so well done that its definitely worth your time. Now keeping my eye on this director as a more serious artist to have on the radar. Looking forward to seeing what he’s up to in the future.