Posted: March 2, 2018 at 1:48 a.m.

Leo (Alexander Skarsgard) is a Amish bartender in dystopian future Berlin in Duncan Jones’ sci-fi noir Mute, now playing on Netflix.

Intoxicatingly complicated and spiked with moral ambivalence, Mute is a sci-fi noir that requires concentration. Unlike many Netflix film offerings, there's too much going on to wander into the kitchen for refreshments without missing something.

Director and co-writer Duncan Jones (David Bowie's son and writer/director of Moon, Source Code, Warcraft) incorporates images and ideas from sources such as MAS*H, Blade Runner, Frankenstein and Lolita (you'll know them when you see them) to craft a cruel, violent and memorable study of how friends and families are formed and destroyed. The attention-grabber is that few of the characters can be labeled as good or bad, causing audience loyalties to be misplaced.


88 Cast: Alexander Skarsgard, Paul Rudd, Justin Theroux

Director: Duncan Jones

Rating: Not rated (contains violence, sexual situations, foul language)

Running time: 2 hours, 6 minutes

Streaming on Netflix

A neon-glittering Berlin 40 years from now -- complete with the return of the Deutschmark -- is where we meet Leo (Alexander Skarsgard) who, being Amish (the sect's U.S. community had been repatriated back to Germany), rejects the electronic niceties of the modern age. This seems counterproductive as he can't speak (caused by a childhood accident for which his tradition-upholding mother refused medical attention) and technology could have made communication easier.

Yet he gets by with a hesitant and awkward demeanor (nothing like Skarsgard's Emmy-winning role as a sexy, arrogant brutalizer in HBO's Big Little Lies), soulful looks, limited sign language, scribbled notes, and a deft ability to rapidly draw meaningful illustrations.

His silent, old-fashioned charm endears him to his thoroughly contemporary girlfriend; they work at a chrome-encrusted nightclub called Foreign Dreams with robotic strippers on stages and mobbed-up Russians at the helm. She's as chatty as he is silent, and they get along fine until the day she disappears. Devastated, he tries to find her.

Leo's search leads him to some truly weird encounters with Cactus Bill (Paul Rudd) and Duck (Justin Theroux), fast-talking and robustly cynical U.S. Army surgeons who served together in war-torn New Kandahar. Duck makes a comfortable living as a skilled builder of body implants, while Bill, who's AWOL (military deserters are everywhere in the city; nobody wants to go back to Kandahar) and scrapes out a living for himself and his young daughter by doctoring for that Russian mob (whose punishment techniques provide plenty of opportunities for ER-level doctoring).

So you think you've got everybody pegged, right? Guess again. Right and wrong is constantly out of focus. Violent behavior bursts from seemingly benign origins. Bill's adorable daughter is often in the care of denizens of a particularly bizarre house of prostitution. Graphic torture splashes lurid colors across the screen. Wisecracking defuses some situations, while escalating others.

And the connection between these characters comes from an imagination that doesn't work like everyone else's. It's best not to form any hard-and-fast loyalties. No one is who they seem. The outcomes of their polarizing actions are jaw-droppingly unpredictable -- but, in hindsight, turn out to be justified.

Mute is dedicated to David Bowie, who died Jan. 10, 2016, and to Jones' late nanny Marion Skene, who took care of him while his rock-star father was touring the world.

MovieStyle on 03/02/2018