The beginning of Mojave feels frustratingly ambiguous. At times, it even begs the question, “What’s the point of all of this?” But then, something changed. I was entranced by the film’s strangeness and couldn’t take my eyes off of the screen.
We meet Thomas (Garrett Hedlund), who has been famous since he was 19 years old. Thomas is in Hollywood but we are never really sure what he is famous for. He lives in a beautiful house and has a fortune but you would never know it by looking at him. With his long hair, goatee, plain and often dirty clothes, Thomas doesn’t strike you as someone in show business.
Thomas picks up and goes for a trip to the desert. In the midst of some form of an existential crisis, Thomas roams around, seemingly without much purpose. He sets up a little camp and one night by the fire, a stranger appears. Jack (Oscar Isaac) is a peculiar drifter, sporting long hair, a big hat, trench coat and a rifle. He sits with Thomas for a while and the two could not be more different. Jack likes to talk, often spouting philosophical mumbo-jumbo, and Thomas likes to be left alone.
I don’t really want to say what happens next but things take an interesting turn out in the desert. Thomas goes back to his cushy Hollywood home to go back about his life but he continually gets unexpected visits from Jack. Mojave turns into a game of cat-and-mouse and weirdness ensues throughout the rest of the film.
Okay, that’s really all I want to say about the plot because watching Mojave unfold is the joy of the movie. It’s dark but darkly funny, relishing in B-movie atmosphere. The score, the look and overall tone of the film harken back to thrillers of the 1970s and 1980s, giving Mojave a retro vibe. Recently, a great and criminally underseen film called The Guest captured the same vibe. The 2014 film is superior – and streaming on Netflix! – but shares the same sense of tension and thrills as Mojave.
The film is written and director by William Monahan, the Oscar-winning scribe of The Departed. He has created a movie bursting at the seams with palpable tension, which makes Mojave a very effective watch. It’s a small film, certainly one that is easy to get swept under the rug, but is worth seeking out for a fun watch.
Hedlund gives one of his best performances as Thomas. Wide-eyed and intense, he sinks right into his role. Isaac continues to be one of the most diverse actors working today. He really broke out a few years ago in Inside Llewyn Davis and has continued to build an impressive resume. With great performance in movies like Ex Machina and A Most Violent Year, Isaac continues to be an acting chameleon (and didn’t do so bad for himself last year in a little film called Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens).
Mojave doesn’t break any molds but is fun for what it is. It’s a movie with some violent moments but doesn’t accentuate those moments for cheap thrills. This is a movie about atmosphere and mood and it is why it succeeds.
Verdict: 4 out of 5
Hedlund and Isaac shine in their back-and-forth scenes as polar opposites. Monahan pits these characters against each other and we are taken on a wild ride. From the opening scenes, where we may not know where this movie is going, Monahan continually strengthens the film with growing intensity.