Suffering an existential crisis, filmmaker Thomas (Garrett Hedlund) takes off into the Mojave desert, where he runs across a drifter (Oscar Isaac) who becomes entangled in his life – with deadly consequences.
William Monahan earned his screenwriting stripes with Kingdom of Heaven and Body of Lies, and won an Oscar for The Departed, but he came a serious cropper with his directorial debut, the misjudged gangland caper London Boulevard, joining Robert Towne and David S. Goyer on the list of Great Screenwriters Who Should Never, Ever Be Allowed To Direct Their Own Scripts. Incredibly, Monahan has been allowed back within 500 feet of a director’s chair, attracting some A-list talent (and, uh, Garrett Hedlund) for what is essentially an assembly of Post-It Note dialogue offcuts in search of a coherent narrative. How the likes of Hedlund, Oscar Isaac, Mark Wahlberg and Walton Goggins came to be part of such a misfire is just one of the many mysteries of Mojave.
For starters, it’s unclear why Thomas (Hedlund) dresses up like a Son of Anarchy and drives out to the desert for an extended montage apparently assembled from an edgy Diesel catalogue shoot, why he attacks a charismatic drifter (Isaac) dressed like Fields of the Nephilim, or shoots a Federale stone dead? Equally mystifying is Goggins’ Jack Nicholson impression, or the fact that Wahlberg’s character is named Norman Davenport? (You heard that right: Norman Davenport.) As in London Boulevard, Monahan wants to see what happens when hard-boiled criminality meets soft-toilet papered celebrity. There’s some existential noodling about the drifter being the devil (or perhaps Thomas’s Tyler Durden-esque alter ego), but if it’s a struggle for Thomas’s soul Monahan is going for, the battle seems to have been won – or lost – early on, leaving the film nowhere to go but up its own backside. The dialogue reads like a pretentious English lit student’s blank verse, and Monahan still writes women as though he has never actually met one.
With its mix of jaw-droppingly terrible shots, nonsensical plot developments and random characterisations, Mojave quickly wanders into a narrative wilderness from which it never returns. It’s enough to make the Academy ask for its Oscar back. ★