Sometimes, despite the best efforts of a talented cast and crew, the end result doesn’t quite hit the target. Such is the case with the new thriller Mojave. This is a ponderous and introspective effort that features solid performances, but doesn’t tie events together in a way that will excite or even engage many of its viewers. Like the film’s characters, it’s remote and distancing.
Thomas (Garrett Hedlund) is a Hollywood filmmaker with suicidal thoughts. He hates his life of money and success – while he has everything, he feels nothing. After traveling out to the desert, Thomas encounters a strange, Duster-wearing drifter named Jack (Oscar Isaac). The two engage in some existential conversations about the meaning of life before events take a more threatening turn. When a random stranger ends up dead, Thomas retreats to Hollywood, only to have the malevolent Jack follow him back home.
There’s plenty of material to work with here. Both of the individuals are psychologically troubled and the movie could have presented an interesting battle of wits, with each man coolly working to destroy the life of the other. However, the tact taken is far more muted and pensive. Rather than becoming anxious, flustered, panicky or turn as nefarious as his pursuer, Thomas simply protects himself from prosecution and goes back to his daily business.
At least the film builds some energy as Jack arrives and attempts to cause trouble for the protagonist. Isaac invests in the role and gives the criminal a certain amount of evil charisma, adding some energy to the proceedings. But for much of the movie even he stays far away from his prey and little momentum is built from his stalking pursuits.
There are numerous quotes that directly address the issues facing the lead. At one point a character talks about a role in an upcoming production, stating that, “The audience will not accept that a rich person can be unhappy.” It’s a clear attempt to address what many viewers will be thinking by the midway point, yet it still doesn’t solve the overall problem this story encounters. We’re given no entry point into the character and no way to relate to him or understand the reasons for his behavior.
At times, Thomas doesn’t even seem concerned about Jack or the imminent danger he may be in. I’m certain it is intended to display the character’s general alienation, but it also robs the tale of tension and ultimately slows down the proceedings. Additionally, there are numerous scenes that directly comment on the shallowness and selfishness of Los Angeles (from the public’s obsession with cell phones to the nature of celebrity). Unfortunately, they’re too blunt and obvious in their presentation.
There are a few interesting discourses and the cast (which also includes Mark Wahlberg and Walter Goggins) manage to carry the viewer through to the climax. Still, this experiment just didn’t speak to me. Mojave may attempt to deal with some serious themes, but for all its posturing and brooding the movie never feels authentic or gets to any dusty and gritty truths.