Director: William Monahan
Major Players: Oscar Isaac, Garrett Hedlund, Walton Goggins
Out Of Five: 2.5
I had déjà vu right at the start of William Monahan’s Mojave. It looked like another chase movie in the desert, not dissimilar to last year’s Beyond The Reach, which had Michael Douglas pursuing Jeremy Irvine after he accidentally killed somebody. And, initially, it pointed in that direction, but it also has bigger aspirations, of an intellectual nature. And it wants to be a thriller. And it’s asking too much.
Movie writer and producer Thomas (Garrett Hedlund) disappears off into the desert for some solitude and a few bottles of vodka. A drifter, Jack (Oscar Isaac) wanders into his camp and their encounter ends in an argument, with Jack coming off worse. But by the following morning, he’s on Thomas’ trail, following him out of the desert and back into the L A lifestyle. He’s very good at wheedling his way into situations and other people’s homes and wheedling his way out again. And he’s determined to get revenge on Thomas.
There’s a point about two thirds into the film when Isaac and Hedlund are having one of their long conversations in a bar and Isaac asks if Hedlund has figured out yet which one of them is the bad guy. At that stage, the answer’s pretty much even stevens, assuming you still care by then. While they look totally different, they’re two sides of the same coin. Both are well educated, intelligent and literary, hence those lengthy scenes between the two which aspire to be philosophical, intellectual even – but don’t make it on either count. The difference between them is what they’ve made of their lives. Hedlund has built a career for himself, while Isaac just aimlessly drifts around, living on his wits. He does like to think he has the moral high ground, however, asking how many people Hedlund has trodden on as he worked his way up.
This could have been a thought-provoking two-hander but, for some reason, writer/director Monahan (best known for writing the screenplay for The Departed) fights shy, even though the irony is that the head to heads between Hedlund and Isaac provide the best moments. We’re given what’s presented as context to the story, the insanity of the movie world as exemplified by producer Mark Wahlberg and showbiz agent Walton Goggins. And the farcical tone of their scenes make them look like they’ve been transplanted from another film. Wahlberg spends all his time in a blue dressing gown and Uggs, while Goggins sports a white three piece, no socks and dark glasses.
The main reason for watching the film is – unsurprisingly – Oscar Isaac, who steals the whole thing. His measured delivery, ice cold gaze and ill-disguised menace are coupled with some deliciously dark humour and throwaway moments. Like his one-sided conversation with the little dog he acquires on arrival in L A. It’s bleakly entertaining, and you can’t blame the dog for looking worried.
Those aspirations of being philosophical, perhaps surreal, are simply too big an ask. Part of the problem is the dialogue, or should I say the quantity of it. It’s very talky, sometimes impenetrable, and rubs out any tension inherent in the stalking story line. Isaac himself is scary, but he’s doing it all by himself because the story certainly isn’t.
Mojave is released in cinemas and on demand on Friday, 25 March and is reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 24 March.