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Review: ‘Mojave’ has a thirst for murder (Includes first-hand account)

Based on examples through history, the unscientific theory suggests the greater the artist, the more tortured the soul. Similarly, in many cases, fame and fortune opens the door and rolls out the red carpet for sex and drugs. These burdens, combined with the pressure to keep producing works of genius while being scrutinized by the public, can be overwhelming for anyone. But how a person chooses to deal with these issues can define and redefine their path. In Mojave, a prominent playwright hopes to escape into the desert but finds an even bigger problem waiting for him.

In Thomas’ (Garrett Hedlund) own words, he’s been famous since he was 18. Currently attempting to make the transition from stage to film, he verbally spars with his former-drug-dealer-turned-producer (Mark Wahlberg) who tries to give him notes on the script. Needing to get away from everything, he buys some water and booze and drives out to the middle of the desert. When Thomas makes camp for the night, a drifter named Jack (Oscar Isaac) asks to join him. Deciding Jack doesn’t have the best of intentions, Thomas wrestles away his rifle and leaves him unconscious. But it doesn’t end there. Jack brings their deadly game to Thomas’ doorstep, threatening everything he’s built and loves.

This is a slow thriller centred on an unhurried stalker aided by his target’s extravagant and erratic lifestyle. Jack easily infiltrate’s Thomas’ world undetected by tracing him back to one of his many homes and becoming intimately acquainted with the details of his life while the playwright gathers his thoughts in another of his residences. Thomas only becomes aware of Jack’s presence when he allows it; though that doesn’t mean he’s surprised or unprepared. Writer/director William Monahan is a veteran of the thriller, but he deliberately stretches out events in his sophomore feature and gives the actors space to explore their characters’ eccentricities.

As both men consider themselves quite clever, they spend most of their time trying to outsmart each other. In spite of their obvious differences, it’s their similarities that are at the crux of the narrative. They’re both brooding loners who feel separated from their surroundings because they think they’re smarter than everyone else. Thus, when they come across each other in the desert, an invisible gauntlet is thrown and only one man can emerge victorious. The advantage continuously rotates in their deadly game of cat-and-mouse, though neither is willing to give up. In some way, this high-stakes contest with a competent opponent is what each has been seeking in their respective journeys.

Isaac and Hedlund are a complementary pair. Both can exude the same inner torment while delivering entirely different performances. Hedlund’s propensity for the brooding artist character is becoming a trademark on the verge of typecasting — but that’s only because he does it so well. His dark expression and pensive eyes lend themselves perfectly to these roles. Isaac, conversely, is a bit more malleable. His on-screen personalities have varied, but he’s proven excellent when called upon to be somewhat fanatical. His voice sounds as if he drew some inspiration from Macho Man Randy Savage, but there’s also a deeper meticulousness to his speech. His development of this psychotically complex character who would have friended his enemy if he didn’t inherently despise him is fascinating.

Director: William Monahan
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Garrett Hedlund and Mark Wahlberg

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Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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