REVIEW: MOJAVE is a William Monahan movie through-and-through. His second directorial effort after the so-so LONDON BOULEVARD, MOJAVE feels like a kind of spiritual sequel to the recent remake of THE GAMBLER that he wrote. Both aim for this kind of Hemingway-esque, hyper macho vibe that’s immediately off-putting as it’s so glaringly self-indulgent.
Obviously, I don’t know Monahan, but having watched him being interviewed it feels like Hedlund is playing his doppelganger to some degree. The movie begins with his character comparing himself to Lord Byron and Ernest Hemingway, and the whole movie feels like ego-mania put on-film, with the Hedlund character so assured of his own brilliance and so able to outsmart and defeat Isaac’s far more interesting antagonist. It’s like Monahan’s written a psychological thriller and simply cast himself as the lead.
MOJAVE isn’t bad when it’s focused on being a thriller, with Isaac especially menacing. There’s something intriguing about him being an aspiring artist who’s seemingly been driven to insanity by his own failure to achieve. For quite a long-stretch of the film, it seemed like Isaac was playing the Hedlund character’s own alter-ego, but that intriguing possibility is shot down about two-thirds of the way in.
Isaac is having a great run of films and while MOJAVE is not one of those movies, his performance is still excellent. As for Hedlund, he’s harder for me to figure out. During his TRON:LEGACY heartthrob days he seemed pretty boring, but his performance in ON THE ROAD was excellent, as was his brief turn in INSIDE LLEWELYN DAVIS. Here (and in the recent PAN) Hedlund’s performance seems stylized, which is in keeping with Monahan’s writing but does keep the audience at an arm’s length, making him a tough guy to spend ninety minutes with.
Even still, when MOJAVE is a two-hander it kind of works, with Monahan doing a nice job capturing the look of the Mojave desert, and the landscape being an interesting setting for a thriller. It’s too bad they come back to Hollywood so quickly, as the movie then becomes another knowing satire of the industry that feels tired. Monahan’s pulled in some big names for small roles, including Mark Wahlberg, who has fun as a coke-fueled producer. Walton Goggins plays Hedlund’s cynical, seemingly all-knowing agent, and it’s interesting to see him branch-out a bit even if the part isn’t terribly three-dimensional. ADELE BLANC-SEC’s Louise Bourgoin plays Hedlund’s love-interest, but it’s another under-written part. Considering how little effort is put into fleshing these characters out, one wonders why Monahan ever had his characters leave the desert at all.
For all of its faults, I still think Monahan’s an interesting filmmaker. Clearly he’s made exactly the kind of movie he set out to, so in that regard MOJAVE can’t really be called a failure. Yet, it all still feels too pretentious and over-written to really be able to engage with – very similar to how THE GAMBLER was. This is really only worth-seeing for Isaac’s performance and some interesting visuals early-on.