2015 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL: William Monahan won an Academy Award for penning the adaptation for Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed.” With the film winning Best Picture, Monahan was at the top of his career, becoming one of the most sought after scribes in the business. With only “Kingdom of Heaven” under his belt prior to his win, he ventured on into two crime/revenge films, “Body of Lies” and “Edge of Darkness,” which were received mixed reviews. He then stepped into the directing chair with “London Boulevard” with Colin Farrell and Keira Knightley. The film went virtually nowhere, no exceptional praise but no word of mouth negative feedback either. Last year, he came back with “The Gambler” starring Mark Wahlberg and suffered just about the same fate. With his latest film “Mojave” starring the exceptional Oscar Isaac and criminally underused Garrett Hedlund, Monahan just about dabbles with some of his magic that was seen in his Oscar-winning screenplay. An often times fun and heart-pounding ride that will can keep you at the edge of your seat. Well, until it doesn’t.
One thing that doesn’t fault Monahan is his steady handling of the camera. He knows exactly how he wants his films to feel and look. Working with both Ridley Scott and Martin Scorsese likely had a strong influence on his aesthetic, but he doesn’t feel copycat. His choices to remain planted within a scene, even when our character is moving or shifting his/her body was something I noticed and appreciated.
In terms of real story structure, this is where Monahan’s film struggles immensely. “Mojave” tells the story of Thomas (Hedlund), a suicidal artist who goes into the desert and stumbles upon a homicidal drifter named Jack (Isaac). When the two collide, it puts into motion a chain of events where one desperately tries to stay one step ahead of the other. That set up sounds well and good, probably just a cat and mouse tale where anything that can virtually happen. The problem is the set up. We spend FAR too much time with Thomas in desert without any real information. With instances of silence, at one point all we’re witnessing is a very long meditation, which is all good if we are let in on those thoughts. The introduction of Jack is a little too coincidental for my liking, and Jack’s abilities as a “homicidal maniac” are far too outside the realm of realism. Just inserting a line like “I’m a genius…” isn’t enough to explain one’s abilities to murder in broad daylight, while randomly being seduced by a man with a dog on an L.A. street when you look like a straight up homeless man. Doesn’t compute.
When it comes to the performances, the top-notch work of Oscar Isaac is just a joy to behold. Looking like he’s having the time of his life with bad teeth, long hair, and a raspy accent that will forever change the way I say “brother” for all-time, Isaac is purely magnetic. Hedlund has always had charisma on his side with performances in “On the Road” and “Unbroken.” This time around, he’s a pretty despicable character with no real redeeming qualities. Not sure if it was Monahan’s intention for us to root against him or Hedlund’s interpretation of the character but both seem to be at odds with each other early on. Mark Wahlberg is given a role that seems to be plucked out of “The Departed” and then watered down for vulgarity. Playing a movie executive of some sort, his character doesn’t seem like he belongs in the movie and is seemingly used for comic relief. His entire story arc just goes nowhere and if taken out, changes virtually nothing of the story or its outcome.
“Mojave” has an appeal that will surely translate for American audiences. You’ll fall for the infectious words of Oscar Isaac, in a role that just about proves that he’s one of the great modern and future legends of our acting generation. It feels like a weird distant cousin to “The Counselor,” less compelling in dialogue but not so destroyed in construction. Despite some clunky missteps, all isn’t bad in the Mojave desert.
“Mojave” is being distributed by A24 Films and is due out in 2015.