Imagine: a young, handsome, burnt-out movie star (Thomas, played by Garrett Hedlund), who has been famous for most of his adult life, gets bored with the apparent meaninglessness of his existence, the super rich in Hollywood Hills, the British wife and child, the French lover, the sexist agent (Mark Wahlberg) and drives out into the Mojave desert to find some deeper meaning, clarity, himself – who knows?
Complication: out in that vast expanse of dust and sand and cactuses – introduced in a series of wide-angle, evening-lit shots – which could be the silent star of the film but really isn’t (there is more Denmark in Hamlet than Mojave in Mojave but I’ll get back to the Shakespeare in a moment) things quickly go very pear-shaped. Driving on a bottle of vodka clearly isn’t the best idea, so Thomas flips his agent’s jeep and ends up braving the way home on foot and camping out under the stars. Enter a very shady-looking stranger, let’s call him Jack (Oscar Isaac, going for the full-on highwayman look – and with very distracting teeth), who not only brings a rifle but also starts talking utter nonsense from the moment he arrives on scene. If his convoluted, meaningless ramble, shot through with references to Shakespeare (there you go), Melville and other greats doesn’t scream psycho then I don’t know what does.
“I’m into motiveless malignancy,” says Jack and declares himself a “Shakespeare-man” (there you go, again) which gives Thomas the heebie-jeebies, although the massive knife Jack brandishes might have something to do with that as well. And of course Jack is one devil (his words, not mine) of a stalker: Thomas can’t shake him, try as he might, and a fair few people wind up dead. That, by the way, doesn’t really seem to bother anyone, least of all the cops who end up discussing the question of whether a man who is naked when attacked will protect his head or his genitals. Yes, bizarre. And also quite pointless.
Mojave is mostly a two-hander between Hedlund and Isaac, who spend an awful lot of time exchanging meta-dramatic platitudes. There is pretty much no investment on the audience’s part with any of the characters. I am not saying that emotional investment is the only way of creating suspense. Actually, the fact that there is really no telling who will end up killing who here could be interesting enough in and of itself. The problem is, though, that we really don’t care. Okay, to be fair, there is one moment when some of the fainter hearted may actually fear for the dog but that’s about it.
If William Monahan’s soulless script is meant as some sort of acrimonious commentary on Hollywood as filled with psychotic, unsympathetic men who get away with murder, women who have no significance to either the story or the men in it, then yes, Mojave rather crudely gets the point across. However, if it’s meant as a thriller then audiences may wonder where the thrill is.
Two things work: a rather neat reference to Shakespeare (yes, another one!) towards the end and Oscar Isaac who is phenomenal. To make a part so utterly ludicrous his own and play it with the panache that Isaac brings to it requires a level of skill which betrays just how brilliant an actor he really is.
“Are you open to some intellectual bullshit?” Jack asks Thomas towards the end of 93 minutes of boredom. Potential viewers would do well to ask themselves the same question.