“Mojave” Is A Dark and Twisted Thriller Set In Hollywood
By Scott Kurland
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Garret Hedlund, Walton Goggins, Louise Bourgoin, and Mark Wahlberg
Director: William Monahan
As a writer, I am always fascinated when I see other writers go out of their comfort zone and try something different. Lately, it seems as though a lot of screenwriters have been trying their hand at directing or producing. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing; far from it, I think it is a very good thing. Just look at Charlie Kauffman, the writer of “Being John Malkovich” and “Adaptation.” He’s successfully directed two films. Even more intriguing is when certain writers find the courage to make films that are nothing like anything they’ve ever written in the past. That brings me to this week’s film “Mojave” directed by the Academy Award winning writer, William Monahan. Let’s find out if it’s any good shall we?
“Mojave” is a dark, Neo-Noir film set in a modern day Hollywood where a young avant-garde filmmaker named Thomas (Garret Hedlund), is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Fame seems to be messing with his brain and he needs to get away from it all. After stealing one of his Producer’s (Mark Wahlberg) work jeeps, he heads to the Mojave desert. He hasn’t decided whether to end his life or have a spiritual awakening, that is until a drifter named Jack (Oscar Isaac) decides Thomas would be the perfect subject for his deadly game of cat and mouse. Will Thomas survive this trial or is Jack too clever?
“Mojave” is nothing like anything I’ve seen before and maybe that’s why it had its theatrical release pulled. Originally this review was supposed to coincide with a Boston release this week. However, the studio pulled it from theaters and it’s only available OnDemand and at the Brattle Theater in Harvard Square. This is indeed a confusing film, but it’s no more confusing than a Christopher Nolan or Darren Aronofsky movie. Monahan is a great writer. As a director, he still has a few things to learn. In his script I’m sure his characters are far more well-rounded, but on film his vision never really comes out. If I’m being perfectly honest, his hero Thomas is more of a villain than Jack. At times I even found myself rooting for Jack because Thomas was too jaded and selfish.
Monahan won his Oscar for writing “The Departed”, and he followed that film with “Body Of Lies”, “Edge of Darkness”, and his directorial debut “London Boulevard”. “Mojave” is much like his first film “London Boulevard.” It’s dark and very stylized, which is where all the problems arise. “Mojave” is a great idea for a film, but the biggest problem is the casting of Garret Hedlund. Hedlund is a great actor, but this isn’t the right role for him. His performance is too much like Harrison Ford. He got away with that in “Pan,” but he cant get away with it here. Thomas is a very unlikable character, and that makes his "A- Storyline" drag.
I am still recommending this film for two reasons; namely Walton Goggins and Oscar Isaac. Goggins is more of a cameo role, but he sells his short screen-time. Goggins is becoming this generations Bruce Dern. He’s so out there and he channels all of his focus into becoming his character. As a result, you never know who the real Goggins is. Goggins plays Hedlund's Lawyer/PR person and he’s so monotone that I absolutely love it. As great as Goggins is though, he doesn’t hold a candle to Oscar Isaac.
I truly believe that, if you want your film to be better, you must cast Oscar Isaac in it. Even though I hated the movie “Sucker Punch,” I still loved Isaac's performance. Isaac makes “Mojave” a better film with his portrayal of Jack. This is a guy who is evil and sadistic. Yet he’s also very likable and charming. I feel about Jack the same way I feel about Hanibal Lecter. They both scare the hell out of me, but they’re so fascinating and intriguing. I could watch an entire film about the evolution of Jack. I want to know who this guy is and, more importantly, why is he the way he is. Jack is this movie through and through.
“Mojave” is a truly bizarre, artistic look at a Hitchcock-style thriller. It goes too artistic at times, and the plot is confused by its own tone during most of the film. I do think it is worth a view, especially for Isaac’s performance alone. Isaac gives a compelling and frightening performance that is one of his best roles to date. If this was in theaters, I’d be giving this film a harsher review. Since it’s OnDemand and will be on Netflix or Amazon soon, this is worth a view.
REVIEW RATING: B-