*** (out of 5)
January 22, 2016
Oscar Isaac as JACK
Garrett Hedlund as THOMAS
Mark Wahlberg as NORMAN
Louise Bourgoin as MILLY
Walton Goggins as JIM
Directed by: William Monahan
BY KEVIN CARR
The strongest thing that “Mojave” has going for it is that the movie turns out to be something very different from what it is initially set up to be. That element of surprise made me smile a bit and allowed me to enjoy a bigger, more complex movie than the relatively simple story the first act leads on that it will be.
Of course, by telling you that there’s more to the movie than just a couple guys in the desert might make it less of a pleasant discovery for you. If that impedes your enjoyment of this film, I apologize.
The first act of “Mojave” appears to be something we’ve seen dozens of times before. A man named Thomas (Garrett Hedlund) heads out into the desert to work through some issues in his life. We don’t get much of a sense of who he is, except that he leaves his attractive bed-mate with a cryptic note before leaving the posh house where they are staying.
Thomas stocks up on liquor and water before making his trip, and he mopes around the desert for a while before he is approached by a mysterious figure at his camp site one night. The mystery man, Jack (Oscar Isaac), spins a tale about how he might be the Devil, and Thomas takes his gun away and tells him to leave. Soon, Thomas worries he is being stalked by Jack, and a desperate act in the desert puts him in danger.
At this point, Thomas heads back to his life in Los Angeles as a famous filmmaker. Here’s where things got interesting for me. Thomas has been famous since he was a teenager. He’s finishing up a much-anticipated film, and he’s sleeping with the hot lead actress. However, his life’s a mess, with his estranged wife and daughter living away from him. When Jack tracks him down and starts to stalk him in Los Angeles, Thomas tries to protect himself.
“Mojave” is written and directed by William Monahan, who is best known as the screenwriter for the Oscar-winning “The Departed.” His depiction of how Hollywood works is clearly a way for him to vent his spleen about certain personalities in the industry, and this is where the film is at its most insightful and interesting.
Mark Wahlberg plays a sleazy manager who wears nothing but a silk robe and spends most of his time on his cell phone and banging prostitutes by his pool. Wahlberg is having a bit of fun here, channeling the characters he created in the TV series “Entourage.”
Darkly balancing out Wahlberg is Walton Goggins, who plays another Hollywood type that looks like he might just be making movies as a hobby to pad out his days as a mass murderer. Also included in the cast is Louise Bourgoin as the hot young starlet that Thomas is sleeping with, and her character exemplifies the distant, vacuous and self-centered actresses that I’m sure Monahan has encountered plenty of times in his career.
Thomas is the only character from L.A. who is given any real depth, but he is ultimately just an egomaniacal douchebag. In fact, the only likeable character in the whole mix is Jack, and he’s a serial killer. Chalk this up to Oscar Isaac’s on-screen charm, but I found myself rooting for him and feeling no sympathy for anyone else.
I’m not yet convinced that this was Monahan’s goal in the film, to present a loser protagonist balanced by a charismatic anti-hero you secretly want to win. I think Monahan sees a little too much of the tortured writer in himself, which makes its way into Thomas’s character a bit too much. This leads to a weak ending that ironically tries to be a bit too Hollywood for what the rest of the film is achieving.
Still, there are some fun performances in the film, and it kept my interest. It’s worth a shot for anyone who wants a different take on either an insider Hollywood film or a serial killer cat-and-mouse game.