Mojave, the new thriller written and directed by American filmmaker William Monahan – who won the Oscar for his adapted screenplay for the film The Departed (2006) – and starring Oscar Isaac, Garrett Hedlund and Mark Wahlberg, has a strange appeal: peopled with a group of dark and troubled drifters and volatile, explosive playboys, this is a depiction of a West Coast American underbelly not featured in the regular tourist guides. Dig beneath its surface however and, like the city of Los Angeles where periods of the narrative take place, this film has a moody essence which beguiles the viewer with its sinister and edgy air.
Thomas (Hedlund) is an artist who lives a rich, pampered and decadent existence in LA. One day, in a fit of madness, he drives out of the city towards the Mojave desert, with the intention of putting an end to his speedily deteriorating life. Unfortunately for Thomas his plans are disrupted when he encounters a mysterious drifter called Jack (Isaac). And so starts a deadly game of cat and mouse between the two men, leaving a trail of carnage in its wake as they make their way towards a final showdown which won’t end well for either.
Mojave may not always be the most pleasant film to watch. There is however, no denying that it provides a viewing experience as darkly stylish as the City of Angels itself, where a lot of its action plays out. At the same time it’s as hot and piercing as the surrounding deserts which act as a backdrop to some of the film’s most atmospheric and memorable sequences.
The film’s real appeal is its relatively simple premise, playing out over a suitably tight ninety three minute running time – just enough to hold your attention, without outstaying its welcome. Ultimately Mojave is a face-off between Thomas and Jack, both unpleasant people equally deserving of whatever hand fate may deal them. The tables turn back and forth between them after their initial meeting in the desert and subsequent encounters within the rich and monied sprawl of urban LA, before heading back to their initial meeting place for one last and decisive confrontation.
Isaac and Hedlund are equally temperamental and violent as the hard boiled adversaries who have more in common than they like to admit, whilst Wahlberg – though only seen in a few brief scenes – gives a characteristically boisterous performance as a shady LA big shot, before coming to an appropriate and justifiably messy end. More than anything though it’s the film’s depiction of a gritty LA, as dry and acrid as the Mojave desert where the action periodically finds itself transposed to. Here is a city where people exist in insulated grandeur, living out their lives without any great degree of knowledge or concern for those whom they occasionally come into contact with. This isolation – also felt in the remote and forbidding desert wilderness outside the city – is perfectly mirrored in the two central characters, particularly Jack, who displays a chilling degree of callousness and cold detachment towards the fate of those who have the misfortune to cross him.
Akin to a nightmare journey, this film takes the viewer on a twisted ride much like that which Thomas and Jack find themselves on. The only difference is the viewer can enjoy the trip, relaxed in the knowledge that they will survive to the end – something which may, or may not, be true for the unfortunate protagonists of Mojave itself.
Director: William Monahan
Writer: William Monahan (screenplay)
Stars: Oscar Isaac, Garrett Hedlund, Mark Wahlberg
Runtime: 93 mins