Some movies fail because their ambitions are too low. Other movies fail because their ambitions are too high. When the latter occurs and the failure is spectacular, it can be extraordinarily painful to watch. ‘Mojave’ is one such movie.
Overwritten and under-directed by William Monahan (who won an Oscar writing ‘The Departed’ for Martin Scorsese and has yet to deliver anything worthwhile since), ‘Mojave’ is a pretentious concoction of half-baked ideas from a filmmaker who should know better. There’s little doubt that Monahan was convinced of his brilliance while cranking out one overblown monologue after another and calling it a screenplay. It’s just a shame that audiences have to suffer through the results of him pleasuring himself with a keyboard. At least there won’t be many viewers who are forced to sit through it.
Garrett Hedlund stars as Thomas, a pained Hollywood artist of some sort. He’s a writer or a filmmaker or whatever. It’s hard to say. The important thing is that he’s sad and empty. You know, because he’s a successful yet tortured artist and stuff. So he does what tortured artists must do in ill-conceived macho art movies; he wanders out to the desert to drink liquor, chain smoke, and contemplate existence. Once lost in that hazy landscape, Thomas stumbles upon Oscar Isaac playing Jack, a wandering serial killer/philosopher in a duster. They talk about a bunch of philosophical nonsense and then, once Jack passes out, Thomas steals his gun and accidentally kills someone. Unfortunately, Jack sees it all, so he follows Thomas back to Los Angeles where he stalks the pained artist with even more long monologues and the occasional murder of a lightly satirical Hollywood type, such as Mark Wahlberg’s oddball producer or Walton Goggins’ lawyer.
To be honest, none of ‘Mojave’ makes much sense, even though Monahan takes great pains to make it seem super-serious and important. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very clear what all this testosterone-driven wannabe art house nonsense is supposed to symbolize since the filmmaker puts the subtext right in his characters’ mouths in countless wanking monologues. The trouble is, why anyone should care? Yeah, Hollywood’s an artistically bankrupt place. Tell us something we don’t know. Hedlund’s character is supposed to be tragic, but it’s impossible to care about this mumbling, pretty-boy, sad-sack given that he has no real problems to speak of, other than maybe being too successful. (Oh the horror!) There’s a difference between making a movie about a protagonist who feels empty and making a movie that’s as empty as its protagonist. Unfortunately, Monahan doesn’t seem to understand that.
Hedlund is an excruciatingly dull lead, but it’s tough to tell if that should be blamed on the actor or the thankless role he’s been given. It’s probably a toss-up. However, the painful pretentions that define the dialogue somehow even manage to stifle the seemingly unstoppable talents of Oscar Isaac. The guy is a remarkable actor, but when forced to engage in exchanges like, “Do you believe in the duality of man?” “No, I believe in infinite complexity” or spit out the word “brother” so many times that it’s as if he’s challenging Hulk Hogan for the all-time record, there’s nothing he can do to save his ridiculous character. The same is true of Mark Wahlberg’s silly cameo, and quite frankly anyone else on screen. There’s no chance for them to seem like human being in this film. They’re just nihilistic art house cool, framed by flat and indifferent cinematography.
The biggest mystery of ‘Mojave’ has nothing to do with the ludicrous philosophical premises that William Monahan tosses at the screen. Rather, we question how this movie got made in the first place? It’s not as if anyone could have been operating under the illusion that this would somehow be a genre hit. Nor is it possible anyone could have actually thought there was some artistic significance to the screenplay’s rambling undergrad philosophy. Maybe someone owed Monahan a favor for a rewrite, or it’s all a big prank at the audience’s expense. Who knows? The important thing is that no matter how tempted you may be for any irrational reason, do not see ‘Mojave’. It’ll only encourage William Monahan to make something this smug and empty again. We can’t allow that to happen.