Film Review – Mojave
An angry white man of privilege decides to go the desert to work out some issues when he sparks a cat and mouse rivalry with a drifter in writer, director William Monahan’s Mojave. Best known for his screenplay for The Departed (2006), previously wrote and directed London Boulevard with Colin Farrell and Keira Knightley. Unfortunately, like his previous directorial affair, Mojave is a movie that probably sounds better in concept than it serves in execution. But then it again, it’s not even a good story so what sounded good originally is a bit muddled at best.
Accentuated with broody men and tinged with melodramatic ambient textures of strings and synths, most of this looks and feels like a mid 90s Direct-to-Video (DTV) release. The kind of thing that would star an early-in-their-career Keifer Sutherland and Keanu Reeves (Brotherhood of Justice), or Nicholas Cage and Michael Biehn (Deadfall). And just like one of these lesser and yet entertaining DTV affairs, this also features now A-list stars in over-the-top, idiosyncratic character roles. Unfortunately nothing ever quite reaches Nicholas Cage in Deadfall levels here, what we do have is Garrett Hedlund as Thomas, a very angry and stoic, privileged filmmaker from L.A. and Oscar Isaac as Jack, a drifter who purports to be the devil and talks with a quasi southern accent meets Tom Waits in full gravel vocals.
Helping round things out is Walton Goggins doing his best Brad Dourif as eccentric and stuffy lawyer Jim and Mark Wahlberg as basically Mark Wahlberg, but here he’s called Norman and he’s also a producer. Angry at something, Thomas decides to head off into the desert to as he puts it, really find himself. His first order of business it to get drunk and yell at some coyotes howling in the night to come and get him. The coyotes are not interested, so Thomas crashes his jeep and starts walking across the Mojave desert when he comes across a drifter following him. The drifter turns out to be Jack who sits at Thomas’ campfire and tells him he comes upon people and then robs them. Thomas makes a choice that sets off a rivalry between him and Jack that leads out of the desert and back to L.A.
Unlike a 90s DTV affair, every time this sets up a standard thriller trope it undercuts it with Tarantino-esque dialog that doesn’t seem to be nearly as witty or revolting and then a whole lot of basically nothing, which then begs the question, why undercut the expectation to begin with? Obviously shot on a limited budget this does things that newly graduated film students usually do to cut expenses. The sound design is underwhelming with objects in frame sounding like they’re coming from further distances. Violence and weapon use, which is present for shock value, is usually kept just out of frame so as to cut costs. A lot of this adds up to uneffective moments that typically just feature Hedlund looking frustrated and trying to act like a macho man, while Isaac seems unsure of what kind of movie this is therefore what confused at what level of idiosyncratic he should be at.
It’s all basically just silly. For someone like Monahan, who’s worked on the projects he has with the talent they’ve came with, this comes out like a first time director’s first feature that just happens to have snagged a couple otherwise great actors and thrown them into otherwise cartoonish roles. If this went and fully committed itself to the moody, sometimes sleazy and always caricature driven DTV thriller that it overtly represents, then maybe this would be a far more worthy use of one’s time.