Starring Garrett Hedlund, Oscar Isaac, Mark Wahlberg, Walton Goggins
Star Wars The Force Awakens actor Oscar Isaac returns to the big screen in the little indie thriller Mojave. Playing a mixture of his character from Drive and Ex Machina, only living like a drifter in the Mojave Desert, Isaac is fascinating to watch as usual. Who isn’t as fascinating to watch, except maybe for his hair, is Garrett Hedlund, Isaac’s co-star in Inside Llewyn Davis. Sophomore writer/director William Monahan tries to immolate David Lynch with a Mulholland Drive type theme and feel, but there are so many elements and too few backstories that Mojave doesn’t give its cast much to work with. The only real suspense to this cat and mouse thriller is trying to figure out who is the cat and who is the mouse.
Famous actor and Hollywood bad boy Thomas (Hedlund) heads to the Mojave Desert to drink away his demons. He overturns his producers truck with reckless driving and after spending a night in the desert howling at coyotes, a man with rotten teeth and a twisted since of humor enters his camp. Jack (Isaac) gets a little too friendly with Thomas, and the two begin a cat and mouse game that turns deadly real quick. Thomas accidently shoots a park ranger, mistaken the shadowed figure for Jack. The wandering witness from the desert discovers who this long haired scruffy guy is and gets an entirely new attitude on life as he begins to stalk Thomas back in the Hollywood hills.
The actors here are way better than their script.
While Hedlund does his best Jeff Bridges and or Christian Bale impersonation, Monahan doesn’t give either character much weight. Why is Jack in the desert being creepy or why is Thomas the famous rich actor so miserable. The desert, especially Joshua Tree National Park, where the first half of the film is shot, seems to be of particular interest for green indie filmmakers. Scenic Route was the same kinda deal, only a better film. The style of Mojave, especially the cinematography is captivating, as are the actors reaching for characters than never manifest into anything substantial. Isaac’s character in the desert looks so goofy with the lowered rotten teeth and bad wig that it’s nearly impossible to take him serious. He comes across as a modern day Michael Keaton from Beetlejuice, saying “brother”, in that deep, raspy voice nearly every sentence.
There is so much self-loathing and pandering to stereotypes of Hollywood that it reveals the desperation of Monahan and the filmmakers he wants to immolate. Besides some annoying inconsistencies in editing (Hedlund’s hair goes from pinned up, pulled back, and down again, often in the same scene), the bigger problem is understanding motivations behind the characters or where Jack gets that shiny pink speedo. Mark Wahlberg pops in the film for no apparent reason except face value, while The Hateful Eight’s Goggins just sits around doing nothing. The actors here are way better than their script, and a better director might could have turned this into something exciting. As it is, it’s pretty nonsensical and forgettable.
Not even an unsettling performance from Oscar Isaac can make this one work.