Editor’s Note: Mojave opens in limited theatrical release today, January 22, 2016.
Thomas (Garrett Hedlund), a famous, floppy-haired, self-absorbed actor has run off from his family and his commitments to the desert, where his full schedule includes drinking and sulking and wrecking a Jeep technically owned by his million-dollar production company. He encounters a nutty and armed man by the name of Jack (Oscar Isaac), a guy prone to speaking in a faux biblical tone, styling himself as a modern-day Satan. Thomas isn’t fooled; he’s an actor and has seen it all before. Hell, he’s probably played it before, but in his state of fashion-forward ennui, he escalates an already dangerous situation. By sun-up the next day, he has shot and killed an innocent person with the gun owned by a man the media has dubbed the “Mojave Murderer.”
“Oops!” shouts Jack, who has witnessed the shooting from afar. Oops, indeed.
Mojave manages to be engaging, clever and sharp for its first two acts, despite the relative lack of freshness of its plot.
Mojave, the new psychological thriller from writer-director William Monahan, is a morality play thinly disguised as a gritty neo-noir. Hindered by a low budget that limits the wig and prosthetic teeth budget, Mojave still manages to be engaging, clever and sharp for its first two acts, despite the relative lack of freshness of its plot. As the third act unfolds, however, the film sags under the strain of checking off a host of neo-noir tropes that are as useless at this late date as they are tiresome.
Still, there is something worthwhile here, especially in the character of Thomas, an unrelentingly unappealing man with very little value as a human being. He’s the kind of famous that involves a $10-million-a-year income and office space at 9200 Sunset Blvd., which means one quick phone call is all he needs to make a luxury sedan appear at the edge of the desert, waiting to drive him home where no responsibilities or consequences await. Or, to be more precise, where he assumes consequences won’t be waiting for him, though he’s quickly disabused of that notion when murderous, justice-minded Jack tracks him down.
Isaac is the clear stand-out here, given a juicy role which he plays just a few degrees off of what’s expected, making him a joy to watch right up to the end.
There’s a limit to Thomas’ effectiveness as a meditation on fame and fortune, primarily thanks to Hedlund’s choice to play the entire film in a state of perma-sulk. Hedlund can always be counted on to nail his line readings, a skill undermined by odd facial expressions and a tendency to pose like a catalogue model. The latter could be excused away easily enough — Thomas is meant to be eccentric in a pretty-boy actor sort of way — but his face never registers anything but smarm or, on occasion, irritated smarm.
Isaac is the clear stand-out here, given a juicy role which he plays just a few degrees off of what’s expected, making him a joy to watch right up to the end. Also worthwhile is the host of character actors who fill out the cast, even if they are mostly unused. Walton Goggins gets far too little screen time and seems importe../../../../2016/01/22/mojave-a-neo-noir-without-guts/d from a much cooler_ coherent film.css; on the other hand, there’s no real good reason for Mark Wahlberg to even be here. Every supporting character in Mojave shows the signs of once having been a full, complete human being, but by the time we see them on the screen, they’re nothing but the mere suggestion of bones.
If there is one thing that a neo-noir should never be, it’s cowardly, and Mojave is practically scared of its own shadow. It’s too afraid to take much of a stand against Hollywood and too insecure to buck stereotypes, turning what’s supposed to be gritty retro styling into something dull and old-fashioned. If this movie had any guts, it would have foregone the telegraphed finale and ended about a half-dozen tropes earlier than it does.
Less insightful and exciting than it thinks it is, Mojave still manages to provide some solid entertainment, thanks mostly to Oscar Isaac's stand-out performance.