Mojave could make a grown man cry. On the one hand, it’s bleakly comic, high-minded psychological thriller. On the other, it’s so criminally self-conscious that you might find yourself wondering why it turns out to be such a misery. Make that: an unintentionally funny misery.
William Monahan, who won an Oscar for his script for The Departed, directed the film. It features Garrett Hedlund as Thomas: a Tortured Artist type, an L.A. movie star in a highly photogenic state of existential chaos. He deserts his rambling, half-furnished mansion to light off into the desert in his Jeep, apparently to get blind drunk on whiskey, ponder the mysteries of life and death, yowl at coyotes, cop a lot of Steve McQueen’s old moves and looks and, just maybe, off himself.
Into his encampment materializes a shadowy, rifle-slinging creep (Oscar Isaac, funny, knowing and yeah, a bit scenery-chewing). He turns out to be a chatty, erudite serial killer, and Thomas’ doppelganger. Thick and fast out of the mouths of both men come strained, meticulously crafted allusions to Herman Melville, Shakespeare, film noir, Hitchcock, Sunset Boulevard. While jibber jabbering, they smoke cigarettes in such a dramatic and stylized way, the sequences may as well be choreographed. Thomas wonders whether Jack is Satan. We wonder if these two will ever stop babbling in overwrought screenwriter-ese.
Anyway, apparently Jack gets about as tired of listening to Thomas as we do because he conks him over the head. Soon after, a forest ranger turns up shot dead. There’s a messy cover-up. One of the two men gains an edge over the other and intends to use it.
Great, you think. But instead of creating a smart, balls-out action adventure chase across a fantastic desert location, Monahan slogs us back to Hollywood for cartoony Cape Fear-ish cat-and-mouse games, mostly designed to score tired old points about how unfair and grotesque the town is – especially to sensitive souls like Thomas. Mark Wahlberg (who starred in Monahan’s lamentable The Gambler) turns up in a cameo as a coked-up movie producer, but much more interesting is Walton Goggins, a lit fuse as Hedlund’s self-absorbed agent.
It’s Isaac, however, who makes the barren Mojave hint at a bloom. He’s almost powerful enough to put this nonsense over. Almost.