Saturday 26 March 2016

Hot wind: "Mojave"

In a year of high-profile film and TV work, Oscar Isaac has kept Mojave under his hat, and you can see why: writer-director William Monahan's follow-up to 2010's London Boulevard proceeds from a showy yet essentially hollow script, of a kind actors and executives have traditionally flocked around (because it speaks to Their World), but which can only ring false the minute it passes beyond the protection of the Hollywood bubble. Here are the struggles of a gurning, tryhard young actor (Garrett Hedlund, seemingly channelling Legends of the Fall-era Brad Pitt) who, in the midst of his latest existential crisis, heads out to the desert in search of clarity. What he gets instead is the blood of a federale on his hands, and the attentions of a stubbly drifter (Isaac), who - from the minute he starts burbling around the campfire about Captain Ahab - is all too clearly signposted as a manifestation of our boy's inner demons. Persistent bugger, though: he gets up from the shovel Hedlund takes to his head, and follows him all the way back to La-La Land, keen to expose his starry quarry as a heartless copkiller.

The route there is overpopulated with movie referents and marker points. The knowing Tarantinoid dialogue recalls Martin McDonagh's recent Californian transfer Seven Psychopaths, forever seeking to excuse the script's evident narrative and structural failings ("People will never buy that a rich person could be unhappy"); rather more ambitiously, Hedlund's Tom is seen watching a DVD of Greed, which suggest Monahan was heading out into the wilderness in search of something more elemental. All the more underwhelming, then, that he should come back with really no more than humdrum VOD fodder: a film that works in some places, not at all in others. On the plus side, Mark Wahlberg - who spun a rare and cherishable poetry from Monahan's curse words in The Departed - has fun as a dissolute screenwriter pal of Tom's before falling victim to the shrugging plotting, and Isaac at least appears to be enjoying himself trying on the mantle of standard-issue movie psycho.

Yet there's a nothing role for French import Louise Bourgoin as the hero's squeeze - she barely gets beyond Tom's ensuite bathroom - and Hedlund's usual charisma is obscured at every point by Monahan's grey-cloud characterisation. When you make your protagonist a pompous, self-absorbed jerk, why on earth should we care what happens to him? (Answer: because in the postmodern world, we're not supposed to care about anything too much, least of all the originality and value of the content we're meant to kill time downloading.) Monahan manages a few striking compositions in the Mojave itself - possibly anybody with a camera could - but the direction reverts to point-and-shoot script delivery once the action returns to L.A.: if the metaphysical vision of a Dust Devil appears some distance beyond it, so too is the basic meat-and-potatoes sustenance of 2014's Beyond the Reach. Long before it enters the purgatory of digital streaming platforms, it's a film stranded in no-man's-land.

Mojave is now playing in selected cinemas. 

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