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Monahan’s Mojave Leaves His Actors High and Dry

The latest directorial effort from screenwriter William Monahan is thin and pretentious, a game of cat-and-mouse that feels more like a drawn-out Wild West showdown.
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The pieces are in place for Mojave to become a taut and gritty revenge thriller, from the intriguing premise to the talented cast to the Oscar-winning screenwriter.

Yet the latest directorial effort from scribe William Monahan (The Departed) is thin and pretentious, a game of cat-and-mouse that feels more like a drawn-out Wild West showdown.

Equal parts brutal violence and rambling conversation, the film follows Thomas (Garrett Hedlund), a troubled artist who flees from Los Angeles to the titular desert to either find himself or kill himself.

After wandering aimlessly for a while, he encounters Jack (Oscar Isaac), a disheveled drifter who engages Thomas in some existential small-talk over a campfire. But that doesn’t end well, prompting Jack to reveal some homicidal tendencies during his ensuing quest for vengeance.

Hedlund’s performance contains lots of brooding in an effort to convey vulnerability behind his character’s tough-guy exterior. Isaac fares better while portraying a menacing loose cannon who talks in circles.

However, it’s difficult to find a rooting interest, since both actors play ruthless scumbags prone to violence, immorality, and macho posturing with little chance at redemption. The film develops some mild tension as we gradually learn more about character backgrounds and motives, and the lines intentionally blur between heroes and villains. At one point, Jack asks Thomas a fair question: “Which one of us is a sociopath, brother?”

Mark Wahlberg and Walton Goggins add some comic relief in small roles as Thomas’ unstable movie-producer brother and his sardonic agent, respectively, part of an effort to inject some satirical subtext about Hollywood fame and socioeconomic class.

Monahan demonstrates some visual flair, especially in the early sequences set amid some rugged terrain (although he overdoes the lens flare). However, his screenplay certainly doesn’t rank with his best, as it lacks the sharp dialogue and creative twists for which he’s known. The central battle of wits and cunning fizzles.

Perhaps the material would have worked better on stage or on the small screen. Instead, the result might not be the cinematic equivalent of a long walk through the desert without any water, but Mojave certainly feels emotionally arid.

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