William Monahan’s (the Oscar winning screenwriter of "The Departed") bizarre thriller “Mojave” revolves around a disillusioned artist named Thomas, (Garrett Hedlund) who leaves his cushy Hollywood home and lifestyle to go find himself in the Mojave Desert. I’m not kidding about that. In a video interview with Thomas he says: “When you get what you want, what do you want?” His solution? “You go to the desert to find out what you want.” We never find out why you’re supposed to go to the desert to find out what you want and quite frankly I don’t think Monahan knows either. Maybe he just wanted an excuse to shoot in the desert? Maybe he thought that line of dialogue sounded really cool but didn’t know what it actually meant underneath?
Anyhow, Thomas is out in the desert guzzling Vodka like it’s water, not exactly a wise decision. Has even been to the desert before? Does he not know its extremely hot and there’s little moisture? One night a mysterious stranger named Jim (Oscar Isaac-- doing a voice that sounds like a cross between young Clint Eastwood and old Nick Nolte) walks into his camp and begins rambling about Jesus and “Moby Dick” in pseudo philosophic sentences. To keep from boring you with more details I’ll just say that things don’t go well during their meeting and before long Jim stalks Thomas through the desert, which leads to Thomas killing an innocent person. Eventually, Thomas returns to L.A to try and resume his normal life but Jim continues to follow him.
“Mojave” is a fairly simple and straightforward cat-and-mouse style thriller. There isn’t anything wrong with simplicity, however the picture is missing a core. As a character, Thomas is kind of a blank slate—an apathetic, mopey schlub. Hedlund looks like tired and bored in the role, half the time he squints his eyes as if he can barely keep them open. We don't get a sense of who Thomas was before his trip to the desert, nor do we come to understand why he’s feeling so disillusioned (and clearly suicidal) in the first place. There’s no development in the character. Meanwhile Jim is simply a creepy drifter guy who’s jealous and resentful towards Thomas’ wealth and fame. Jim is so determined in following Thomas and acts as though he has some grand clever scheme in taking Thomas down and yet a lot of the time he is ill prepared and comes off stupid. Two major confrontation sequences, one at a bar and another in a trailer back in the desert, fizzle out due to Jim’s ineptitude.
In other words Jim is a lame antagonist. And so, because our two primarily characters are so dull and one note, their rivalry (and in essence, the central force of the movie) is also dull. On top of that, the stakes aren’t very high. When Jim comes to L.A to track down Thomas there’s not much of a threat. Thomas has a wife and kid but it’s revealed early on that they’re in England, meaning they aren’t in any immediate danger. When Jim strikes up a creepy conversation with Thomas’ sometimes girlfriend Milly, (Louise Bourgoin) it has no effect because up to this point the audience has no sense of their relationship before the desert and there’s no follow up. Milly is never in any danger again. For the most part, the picture meanders along on autopilot, never becoming as tense and compelling as it should be. Other secondary characters show up for a few scenes apiece, hardly making an impact. Mark Wahlberg (basically playing Mark Wahlberg) is a fast-talking, irresponsible movie producer and Walton Goggins is Thomas’ agent, who’s wide eyed and talks like a creep for some reason. Pretty much all of the actors in “Mojave” have some kind of eccentric affectation, perhaps to try and mask the hollowness of their characters.
In the end “Mojave” is an intriguing but ultimately pointless endeavor. It has a mythical, almost otherworldly quality to it but all that turns out to be window-dressing. The picture wants to be twisty and profound but is actually meandering and hollow.