dir Duncan Jones
prd Stuart Fenegan, Ted Sarandos
scr Michael Robert Johnson, Duncan Jones
with Alexander Skarsgard, Paul Rudd, Justin Theroux, Seyneb Saleh, Robert Sheehan, Gilbert Owuor, Jannis Niewohner, Rob Kazinsky, Noel Clarke, Dominic Monaghan, Andrzej Blumenfeld, Florence Kasumba
release US/UK 23.Feb.18
18/UK Netflix 2h06
A fragile romance: Saleh and Skarsgard

rudd theroux sheehan
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Mute With heightened drama and atmosphere, this futuristic mystery really should be a lot more compelling. But everything is so stylised, from people to settings to the script itself, that it begins to feel rather derivative and dull. And without any proper connections with the central characters, it's difficult to care about what they go through. Still, it looks cool, and touches on some intriguing ideas.

In near-future Berlin, Amish barman Leo (Skarsgard) has been unable to speak since a childhood accident. The only thing he cares about is his slightly shady girlfriend Naadirah (Saleh), so when she goes missing, Leo dedicates all his energy to finding her. He continually crosses paths with American doctors Bill and Duck (Rudd and Theroux), a couple who individually have histories with pretty much everyone else in the city, including an androgynous hooker (Sheehan), a quietly intense club owner (Owuor) and a lowlife mobster (Niewohner). And instead of getting clearer, Leo's search becomes increasingly complicated.

The main problem with the film is that Naadirah clearly isn't as attached to Leo as he is to her, so it's hard to root for him to rescue her. And as Leo crashes into a larger mystery involving organised crime, prostitution and paedophilia, the complexity takes away from his yearning rather than adding to it. Meanwhile, the script indulges in some seriously random events, as well as hallucinatory cutaways to Naadirah's bizarrely distracting perspective.

With a performance that's slow and, yes, muted, Skarsgard holds things together nicely and gets a few strong emotional moments along the way. His passion for Naadirah feels misguided, but it's all he has. And following him is just about enough to hold the interest. Other characters are far more disjointed, each of them annoyed and busy, appearing and vanishing in the narrative. So even if they're wildly inconsistent, Rudd and Theroux have some fun playing against type as pansexual sadists.

Jones is clearly referencing Blade Runner here, with endless nighttime cityscapes soaked in rain and neon. But Clint Mansell's bland electronic score makes it feel oddly cheap. And the overall archness prevents us from taking any of it very seriously. There's an enjoyable mix of sexy technology and old world decay, but much of this feels gimmicky, and the themes in the story never manage to emerge. It may look cool, but it's ultimately so vague that a closing note honouring the filmmaker's parenthood leaves us wondering if we missed something.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 26.Feb.18

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