Mojave does a great job of threatening to be good.
Just a casual look at its cast and crew suggests that it would be worthwhile. William Monahan, the Oscar winning scribe of The Departed, makes his directorial debut, while its led by man-of-the-moment actor, Oscar Isaac (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), and the brooding magnetism of Garrett Hedlund (Pan). It even boasts the supporting talents of Walton Goggins (The Hateful Eight), Mark Wahlberg (Daddy’s Home), Fran Kranz (The Cabin In The Woods) and Matthew L. Jones (Breaking Bad).
It begins to lose its shine with its vague premise, though. Garrett Hedlund stars as Thomas, a near-suicidal artist who drives out into the desert to either die or find inspiration (whickever comes first), but instead encounters Oscar Isaac’s Jack, an intelligent but dangerous drifter with a chip on his shoulder.
Mojave’s opening is its strongest period. With little to no knowledge of the character of Thomas, Monahan takes us out to the desert with him. There’s a calm, naturalistic beauty to the way Monahan shoots the Mojave, too, with the piercing sunlight aiding the serene isolation of the desert. Garrett Hedlund shimmers like a cool mirage, drinking heavily, crashing his jeep, and looking for answers to questions we haven’t even heard yet.
This is only boosted by the introduction of Oscar Isaac, who grabs the film away from Hedlund as the chatty, mysterious and beguiling Jack. Isaac – fresh off filming Inside Llewyn Davis and Ex Machina – is clearly brimming with confidence, and there’s an instinctive peril and calm, conniving evil that makes Jack utterly captivating.
It’s in this period where the first inklings of Mojave’s issues arise. The pair become entangled in an existential debate that seems like it’s coming straight out of the mouths of pretentious teenagers that are trying to prove their points using passages they don’t now the true meaning of. They keep coming too. Wave after wave of meandering gibberish that it’s hard to take seriously. Obviously, some hit home, but for the most part, it’s just bad to listen to.
An interlude to this waffle finally arises when Jack and Thomas become entangled in a fight that gets increasing violent, and you hope that an enjoyably simple, but still taut and suspenseful, cat and mouse chase through the desert will then unfold. Instead, the action moves to Los Angeles, where we find out that Garrett Hedlund is a successful film director or producer or writer or something, which immediately makes all of his previous antics ring hollow.
We’re introduced to Thomas’ world of Hollywood glamour, production, and excess. And while Walton Goggins and Mark Wahlberg’s combined presence in any film is always appreciated, their characters are so vapidly clichéd and tiresomely satirical that the shine of seeing them almost instantly wanes.
All the while, Oscar Isaac stalks Garrett Hedlund, but it’s done in such a lackadaisical fashion that any thrills are mute. Numerous narrative threads -- about Thomas getting a gun, problems with his movie, his affair, hiding another weapon – also arise, but only end up bloating the film, while any chance for a random philosophical utterance is taken without a second thought.
Sure, Isaac remains compelling throughout, even when his performance verges just a bit too close to “Macho Man” Randy Savage territory, and Don Davis’ hazy cinematography suits the murky narrative. But Mojave lacks any substance to even remotely compel, while your interest will instantly be quashed by its annoying existential ramblings. Instead, any chance of Mojave being worthwhile disappeared once its characters left the desert.