Tribeca Film Festival Review: Mojave, by Rudie Obias
William Monahan dabbled as a director with the crime film London Boulevard, but overall, Monahan is mostly known as a screenwriter. In fact, he won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay penning Martin Scorsese’s The Departed in 2006. Monahan hasn’t hit those heights since, as his films have gotten progressively stranger and stranger. His sophomore directorial effort, Mojave, takes a look at celebrity and privilege, while it also tells a story of revenge and murder.
Mojave stars Garrett Hedlund as a scruffy Hollywood actor named Thomas who struggles to find meaning in his work and life. He takes a pilgrimage to the Mojave Desert for some much needed soul searching and meditation. While in the desert, isolated from civilization, he comes across a mysterious drifter named Jack, played by Oscar Isaac. Before long, the two are violently at odds with each other, as Thomas believes that this lonely drifter will kill him. Out of paranoia, Thomas knocks Jack out and steals his rifle and makes the long march back to Los Angeles. Aware that Jack is stalking him, Thomas accidently kills a park ranger when he mistakes him for Jack.
The pair both find each other back in Los Angeles. Jack learns Thomas’ identity, kills a film producer and assumes his identity to locate Thomas’ home. Mojave goes from a revenge tale to a surreal journey into Hollywood filmmaking, as Mark Wahlberg and Walton Goggins awkwardly appear in the movie to play sleazy film producers looking for their next big project with Hedlund’s Thomas.
Mojave gets lost in presenting a clear narrative and descends into the trippy, never quite merging the Hollywood satire and revenge story. It doesn’t work as well as it should and that’s mainly due to Monahan’s inability to pick a tone or direction for the movie. He’s not sure whether this movie should be a gritty crime film or a hilarious look at the Hollywood studio system. A juxtaposition like that can only really work for the likes of David Lynch, and let me tell you, William Monahan ain’t no David Lynch.
There also seems to be a strange Hitchcockian quality to Mojave, with Jack being a homeless drifter who is the sole witness to a murder by a celebrity. There’s an idea that no one will believe Jack because he’s a drifter, and Thomas is famous and rich, but, again, Monahan doesn’t do enough to balance the scales to be a true murder mystery or crime tale.
The only real standout in the movie is Oscar Isaac, who is good in just about anything. He gives the film personality and charisma, which is completely at odds with Garrett Hedlund’s wooden and forgettable screen presence. Oscar Isaac seems squandered in Mojave, rather than all the elements around him taking advantage of such a dynamic performance. In the end, Mojave falls somewhere in between David Lynch and Alfred Hitchcock, in terms of ideas and themes, but with William Monahan’s inability to make a decision where the film should go. In many ways, the movie feels just as lost as its characters.