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New Release Review - MOJAVE

A Hollywood artist makes an enemy of a mysterious drifter.



Review by Ren Zelen (@renzelen)

Directed by: William Monahan

Starring: Oscar Isaac, Garrett Hedlund, Mark Wahlberg, Walton Goggins, Dania Ramirez



Despite seeming to be rather an indulgent exercise in writer-ego, Mojave is perversely watchable, although Monahan assumes too much in believing that the audience will connect with a sour narcissist who’s piqued at being trapped in the gilded cage of his own wealth and fame.



Mojave is the second directorial venture from William Monahan, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of The Departed. The film received its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival and depicts a twisted cat-and-mouse game between a Hollywood ‘artist’ in the midst of an existential  crisis and a homicidal drifter he encounters during a solo sojourn in the Mojave desert.
Garrett Hedlund portrays the artist, Tom, who in the film's opening moments disdainfully remarks: “I’ve been famous in one way or another since I was 19.” We’re not entirely surprised to learn that this early success has only brought on a bad case of petulant alienation, causing Tom’s wife and child to flee to London while he continues to mope aimlessly around his neglected, Los Angeles penthouse or pay his mistress the occasional desultory visit.
Tom’s solution to his ennui is to decamp into the Mojave Desert (Don Davis' widescreen cinematography takes full advantage of the scenic locations), where he expresses his emotional confusion by drinking straight from the bottle, driving his truck off the road and doing a ‘wild-man’ number by taunting the howling of innocent coyotes, in a typical ‘Hollywood’ enactment of existential despair.
However, the situation takes a more interesting turn with the arrival of Jack (Oscar Isaac), a rifle-toting stranger who wanders out of the night and into Tom’s makeshift camp and helps himself to a cup of Tom’s coffee.
By way of his alarming grin and ebullient verbosity, it soon becomes apparent that Jack is a psycho with a philosophical bent. He remains calmly menacing, even while exercising a bit of literary criticism on Melville’s Moby Dick and then declaring "I'm into motiveless malignity … I'm a Shakespeare man!" Well, alright then – now we all know where we stand.
Despite their apparent familiarity with the classics of literature, the narcissism of this pair of loafers inevitably means that their conversation escalates into macho goading and intellectual one-upmanship.
It becomes apparent that this little campfire debate between Tom and Jack is not going to end in a gentlemanly fashion. Jack insists on delivering biblical and literary references until Tom finally has enough and exerts his supremacy by whacking him upside the head and stealing his rifle.
There follows a sequence of events handled in the elliptical style of an art film: –  avoiding the enraged Jack who is in pursuit, sore of head and stinging with thwarted intellectual gratification, Tom understandably hides in a cave. Nervous of yet more scholarly jibes, Tom shoots at the silhouette of a man at the mouth of the cave only to find that he has accidentally killed a police officer and that a gleeful Jack has witnessed the entire incident, including Tom’s attempts to hide the evidence. Jack stumbles off and finds Tom’s overturned truck, ferrets out his address and - “Game on brother!”  - determines to track him back to Los Angeles.
Jack emerges from the shadows of the desert and quickly appropriates the clothes, car and home of a homosexual who picks him up on the outskirts of town, and whom he promptly disposes of. Jack then cuts his hair, puts on some smart, clean clothes, and sets about tormenting his erstwhile adversary and threatening those around him.
The basic plot of Mojave is rather simple - Jack wants to kill Tom and will continue to provoke him until one of them succeeds in killing the other. As to why, that remains rather vague - possibly because Jack’s considerable narcissism does not like to be pricked by anyone who purports to be intellectually superior, and Tom revels in pointing out Jack’s errors, as evidenced during a beating when he still manages to correct Jack’s mistaken quote from George Bernard Shaw - "Now is not the time to one-up me on the quotes, brother," Jack replies as he gives Tom another thwack with a baseball bat.
Or then again, it may be because, in Tom, Jack recognises and resents a kind of doppelganger who has succeeded where he has failed. Perhaps it is all a fantasy where Tom is trying to kill off a dangerous aspect of his own ego… or possibly again, perhaps Tom has just attracted the attention of a homicidal nut-job.
It all leads to a showdown where more literary allusions are bandied about with further preambles about morality and life, before a violent, if poetic, denouement – a fateful moment that is determined by Russian roulette and the flipping of a coin.
So in effect, the film is an exercise in delayed gratification, with Writer/Director Monahan postponing the inevitable confrontation in order to give us a fuller sense of Jack’s mischief-making and Tom’s existential malaise in an attempt to undermine its own stalker-thriller premise.
Despite seeming to be rather an indulgent exercise in writer-ego, Mojave is perversely watchable, although Monahan assumes too much in believing that the audience will connect with a sour narcissist who’s piqued at being trapped in the gilded cage of his own wealth and fame. Garrett Hedlund's pouty, recessive performance doesn't help a fairly unsympathetic role. Oscar Isaac tries to take up the slack with his entertaining turn as loopy, highbrow, not-as-clever-as-he-thinks-he-is, Jack. His energy gives Mojave a lift when he’s on screen, but Jack feels less a real character than a literary construct. Attempting also to infuse his noirish thriller with satirical jabs at Hollywood excess, Monahan has Mark Wahlberg play a coked-up, whore-loving producer as a buffoonish cartoon.
The movie dishes out digressions on masculinity, makes swipes at the film industry and gives us unsolicited opinions on some great literary figures: Byron, Rimbaud, Melville, Shakespeare, Shaw, etc. However, the fun for me was watching the two antagonists attempting to out-do each other like a couple of Jocks, who had been forced to read an anthology and then made to compete in the High-School debating team.

At UK cinemas on On Demand 25th March

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