Netflix Sci-Fi Thriller Turns Detective Story Loose In Cyberpunk Future

By Jeffrey Rapaport | Updated

Ah, cyberpunk neo-noir—a sub-genre we can’t help but love, sporting some excellent titles: Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell, even Netflix’s recently canceled but much loved, Altered Carbon. Another great example of the aesthetic is director Duncan Jones’s 2018 film, Mute, released before it was off Netflix. This visually striking yet narratively challenging movie tells the tale of a mute bartender, Leo, as he navigates the riveting world of cyberpunk Berlin, all to unravel the mystery of his missing girlfriend, Naadirah. 

Mute Is An Underrated Cyberpunk Gem

As Leo, Alexander Skarsgård delivers a standout performance, as does Seyneb Saleh, who brings depth to the character of Naadirah. The environment they navigate, set in the year 2035, is a seamless blend of high-tech and the underworld. Leo, rendered mute by a childhood accident, works in a strip club owned by the mobster Maksim. When Naadirha suddenly vanishes under enigmatic circumstances, Leo’s life takes a tumultuous turn.

To find his lost love, the mute bartender embarks on a silent yet intense quest through Berlin’s dark alleys and neon-lit streets of this Netflix original, as desperate as he is dedicated. 

A Different Role For Paul Rudd

One of the most compelling facets of the film’s sensibility is its effective rendering of a world where the dirty aspects of human nature are reflected all the more sharply through the lens of futurist tech. This is wonderfully exemplified by the characters Cactus Bill and Duck, played by Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux, respectively; the two are American surgeons running a black-market clinic.

The pair’s dubious, sinister practice contributes added complexity to Mute’s high-concept plot, intensifying Leo’s search in unforeseen, chilling ways, that fit in well on Netflix.

Spiritual Sequel To Moon

A project long in development, Mute was a film Jones—the sun of legendary musician David Bowie—would often refer to as a spiritual sequel to his 2009 feature film, Moon; Jones even considered having that film’s star, Sam Rockwell, appear in this Netflix feature.

The movie pays homage to Ridley Scott’s iconic work of cyberpunk, Blade Runner, if only for its visual style. On a deeper level, the film harkens back to Scott’s masterpiece through its thematic exploration of the tense intermingling of human emotion and inhumane, technologically advanced dystopia.

Looks And Sounds Amazing

The work of cinematographer Gary Shaw accomplishes much of the visual spectacle; Shaw and Jones previously collaborated on Moon, and their working relationship is evidently strong. Mute captures and revels in Berlin’s eerie beauty, futuristic decay, and almost retro Weimer Republic debauchery, amounting to a unique option on the Netflix menu. The film’s score, composed by Clint Mansell, also channels a simultaneous influence of German expressionism, film noir, and krautrock’s rhythmic, hypnotic sounds. 

Mixed Critical Reception

The streaming title is overtly ambitious, with striking visuals and thematic, narrative depth. However, the film received a mixed reception. For example, the aggregated score on Rotten Tomatoes remains a paltry 21 percent. While experts enjoyed and lauded Mute’s aesthetic, they were unforgiving when it came to the film’s pacing and plot, dubbing the latter muddled, but you can judge for yourself on Netflix.

Moreover, unfavorable comparisons to Blade Runner were unavoidable and didn’t help the film’s reception.

Streaming On Netflix

Alexander Skarsgård

That said, the movie nonetheless pushes boundaries and furthers the genre, helped by its ambitious storytelling and visual artistry. Additionally, the acting demands attention, especially Skarsgård’s, who conveys a range of emotions solely through facial expressions, a feat to behold. Plus, witnessing Rudd’s performance–comedic, sure, but also disturbing–means Mute is worthy of streaming on Netflix.