MOJAVE (2015) review
written by: William Monahan
produced by: William Green, William Monahan, Justine Suzanne Jones & Aaron L. Ginsburg
directed by: William Monahan
rated: R (for language and some violence)
runtime: 93 min.
U.S. release date: April 15, 2015 (Tribeca Film Festival) and January 22, 2016 (limited, iTunes, Amazon and Direct TV)
As I watched “Mojave”, I could not for the life of me recall when was the last time I was so excruciatingly bored by a movie. Like the challenging environment of its titular namesake, this movie made me feel like I had just spent a week in a desert, ran out of food and water and started hallucinating a better movie – one in which the writing and characterization wasn’t so pretentious and the cast wasn’t either sleepwalking or hopped up on acid. “Mojave” comes from the mind of writer/director William Monahan, who won an Oscar for his screenplay of “The Departed” and also wrote “Kingdom of Heaven”, “Edge of Darkness” and “The Gambler”. This is his sophomore effort behind the camera after “London Boulevard” and never have I seen or heard a more pretentious piece of junk – watching it felt like a game of endurance with no prize at the end.
Writing about this plot is just as tedious as trying to watch it unfold without wanting to tear your skin off. I’ll give a shot though, but I might stop and rant here and there. Thomas (Garrett Hedlund) is a Hollywood filmmaker or an actor or an artist of some sort (it’s never quite clear – let’s settle on director) who is supposedly battling depression. I say supposedly, because I never believed it. The greasy-haired supposed hunk drives out into the Mojave desert with a two bottles of hard liquor, two gallons of water and a knife. Maybe he’s gone there to kill himself and maybe he’s just there to wipe out his jeep or yell “Come on!” to coyotes late at night. I don’t know. What I do know is this is about 14 minutes into this movie and I wanted to claw my eyes out.
Enter another greasy-haired character, a drifter Thomas comes across named Jack (Oscar Isaac), a homeless, non-sensical character who could be suffering from heat stroke, because literally every other word out of his mouth is “brother“. Shut up. This is Oscar Isaac, man – he’s awesome. But he’s awful here. Now, Garrett Hedlund is in this tier of actors that Hollywood is determined to thrust upon us as young hot things – like Jai Courtney and, most recently, Theo James. It’s not working. Just let it be, Hollywood. (Look what happened to Josh Hartnett). But Oscar Isaac! How do you make him look bad? How does his acting come across as incredibly annoying and pretentious? Awful writing will do just that and this is proof of that – but more on that in a bit.
When these two characters meet in the desert, there is much posturing and an incredible amount of gobble-dee gook dialogue. For a hot second, Monahan suggests these two are like Jesus and the Devil in the desert, but that doesn’t work. There are theories and extrapolations over campfire and after the two fight for some unknown reason, they separate with a threatened Thomas taking Jack’s rifle and heading deeper into the desert. IMDb summarizes these two as doppelgängers – pfft, whatever. Sure, there’s a cat-and-mouse developing between the two convoluted characters, but I had no clue why. In fact, finding motives for these two is like trying to find a lone diamond in the desert sand. After accidentally killing a federale in the desert in a paranoid panic (hey, he thought it was Jack), Thomas makes his way back to Los Angeles and his bland life of decadence. He’s surrounded by assistants (I think), played by usually good character actors like Matt Jones (Badger from “Breaking Bad”) and Fran Kranz (Marty from “The Cabin in the Woods”), but don’t ask me what they’re assisting him with. They’re just more wasted talent, taking up dead space.
Meanwhile, Jack tracks him back into Los Angeles and re-integrates back into society by killing off a hapless movie producer and taking his car, clothes and poor dog – who he talks to. Jack manages to hack the password of the dead producer’s Mac and conveniently manages to find the code to a safe containing a gun and a stack of cash. He shaves his head and continues his search for Thomas. Why? Who knows.
I can’t really go on trying to describe what “Mojave” is about, because I just don’t know and I don’t want another headache. There’s several incoherent ideas spinning in this movie. It could be a movie about the subconscious and it could just be a straight up stalker flick. The two main characters name drop literary greats like Rimbaud, Byron, Shakespeare and Shaw – but why? For what purpose? Just so more indecipherable lines can exit their mouths, I guess. Monahan doesn’t care about completely losing his audience, let alone boring and annoying them. He has no target audience in mind, just himself it seems. He’s going for either a Cormac McCarthy or Elmore Leonard vibe here, but clearly fails.
“Mojave” becomes more of a confounded puzzler when Mark Wahlberg and Walton Goggins enter the picture. These are genuinely entertaining and usually interesting actors. Both of them comes across like they’re on drugs here. Wahlberg plays Norman, who may be a colleague or agent of Thomas (again: unclear) who comes across like a spaz with a short attention span. On the flipside, Goggins plays Thomas’ lawyer named Jim and he coasts through the movie in a glaze of stupor – but I will say his introduction seen, where he’s reclining in tighty-whiteys and knee-high tube socks made me chuckle, albeit the only chuckle in a ridiculous movie. There are other wasted actors in “Mojave” such as Dania Ramirez playing a detective named Beaumont, who’s investigating the murder of that federale in the desert. There’s also French actress, Louise Bourgoin, who plays a girlfriend of Thomas – even though he supposedly has a wife and daughter (who shows up at the end, running into his arms – as we say, “huh?”), but that’s hazy too.
Eventually, Thomas and Jack head back into the Mojave desert where they engage in more pyschobabble and trite philosophical quips. Their interaction consists of fragments and thoughts that never coalesce into anything with motivation or subtext. “Mojave” is an incomplete, confusing mess that surprisingly comes from A24 – a studio that has put out incredible movies like “Ex Machina” and “Room”. I guess every studio has to drop a deuce.