From the briefest glance through Mojave’s credits, you would be forgiven for assuming that this desert-noir thriller was going to cook up something of a (sand) storm. The Departed’s writer, William Monahan, has delved into directing for his second film.
Mojave’s overarching theme of dissatisfaction and the search for answers is apt considering its viewing experience; despite a modest running time, the film never shakes the notion that it would be a discernibly more satisfying piece of work on a condensed scale. The ambiguous opening sequence of a smouldering Thomas (Garrett Hedlund), followed by a dreamlike saunter through the eponymous arid wasteland, suggests warnings of a movie that meanders into the abstract abyss. Unsurprisingly, what transpires is an unnervingly feeble attempt at existential examination that, even when finally at top speed, is more tumbleweed than desert twister.
Thomas is a frustrated thirty-something on a philosophical retreat (of sorts) in the Mojave’s wilderness, where he sets off on a solo trek to “find himself” (although this isn’t entirely clear). The script itself, also penned by Monahan, isn’t particularly straightforward. After a few nights of more smouldering and a touch of coyote baiting, Thomas’s makeshift camp is stumbled upon by a hirsute, machete-wielding drifter named Jack (Oscar Isaac). The pair commence an alpha-off, a battle of one liners that tries so hard to be slick and spontaneous that it becomes borderline caricature. “I’m a fan of motiveless malignity, brother” is a particular favourite, delivered by Isaac in a pseudo-sociopathic drone that, for such a talented a performer, struggles to carry even a hint of refined malevolence. Shakespearean references aside, both look the part and it is their performances that rescue Mojave from tumbling into the metaphysical void.
As the second act begins, the film picks up the pace and dialogue. We learn more about Thomas’s profession and his reasons for being out in the desert, along with the obligatory cat-and-mouse plot manoeuvres. Both Hedlund and Isaac give as much to the characters as the writing allows. Mark Wahlberg’s cameo as a coked-up producer is actually very effective, coupled with Walton Goggins (Django Unchained) in solid support as always.
While not altogether an uninspired piece of cinema, it has so much unfulfilled potential that it is difficult to see anything but barren obscurity for Mojave, except as a textbook example of style over substance.
Mojave is released nationwide and on demand on 25th March 2016.
Watch the trailer for Mojave here: