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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Mute Witness (1994)



Reviews and Comments

Rarely are thrillers so thoroughly satisfying and fun. The story is about a film crew making a movie in Russia. The makeup artist, a mute, has to retrieve something from the set after hours, and she witnesses heinous goings-on. Of course, she inadvertently draws attention to herself, and it's everything she can do to escape alive. But that's only the beginning of this tangled, winding, high-adrenaline ride.

It's not flawless. The director of the movie (the character of the director of the fictional movie within this movie, not the real director of Mute Witness...if that makes any sense) is the most insufferably pathetic person. His bungling is almost never funny, and the stereotype is at least as offensive as that of women who scream, swallow their fists, and faint whenever something terrible happens. His wife, on the other hand, is a little too unflinching. When someone puts a gun to her husband's head, it doesn't faze her in the slightest.

There's also the occasional plot hole, but this movie has so much fun with its formula, it's as if they were included on purpose. Maybe they were. The movie succeeds at something just shy of miraculous -- it indulges in thriller cliches, revels in them, yet doesn't succumb to them even in the final act. The few plot twists that occur right at the very end, after the climax has passed, remind me of the thrillers of Brian de Palma. Like many of those films, Mute Witness has so much fun with thriller cliches that they seem fresh and new -- and suspenseful -- all over again.

Throughout the near non-stop suspense and mystery, Mute Witness has a welcome sense of black humor. It's a good thing, too, because an early disturbing scene nearly derails the movie. The crime that the makeup artist witnesses is just a little too sick and horrific, and it mars the moments that follow with a distasteful, ugly mood. But the movie mostly recovers with its darkly comic sense, and it's fine thereafter.

The long and the short of it? Mute Witness is a scary, edge-of-the-seat ride with likeable protagonists, a generally unpredictable plot, and lots of fun. Thriller fans should take note.