You know there's a problem with a movie when the blurb they stick on the front cover of the Blu-ray release reads, "This thriller with a 'Star Wars' star is a must-see." This is the best way they thought they could advertise this movie? By superficially connecting it to another franchise that just so happens to be releasing on home video around the same time?
'Mojave' was a DirecTV production and was available on demand. I continuously saw commercials for it as I'm a DirecTV customer. I was intrigued. Oscar Isaac is one of the most talented actors working at the moment. The promise of him playing a psychopath was intoxicating. It's too bad 'Mojave' never finds its footing.
Tom (Garrett Hedlund) is a famous Hollywood writer hauling around clichés aplenty. He's an alcoholic. He's annoyed by his fame. He sleeps with the talent. His house in the Hollywood hills is overgrown and undermanaged. He's living the Hollywood dream, but has no intentions of maintaining it. His loneliness causes him to drive into the desert alone, drink discount liquor straight from the bottle, and scream at coyotes howling in the distance. He sports all the hallmarks of a "tortured writer" without actually convincing us how damaged he is.
Out among the stillness of the Mojave Tom runs into Jack (Oscar Isaac), a desert drifter who says "brother" a lot. Jack is a peculiar dude. He's tromping around the desert like he just stepped out of a John Wayne movie. He carries a rifle and speaks in melodic existential asides. He's creepy, sure, but we know how creepy Isaac can really be (see: 'Ex Machina'). It's strikingly apparent that 'Mojave,' directed by William Monahan, isn't extracting everything Isaac offers as an actor.
Part of the problem is that Hedlund doesn't offer a strong opposing force. He's imitating a tortured writer, not embodying him. The life-and-death cat-and-mouse game they find themselves embroiled in isn't nearly as effective when one side of the equation is undeniably weak. It bears mentioning that Walton Goggins is in this movie to. Placed, unforgivingly in a throwaway part as Tom's lawyer. A small tweak that would have the potential to right many of this movie's wrongs would be to switch Goggins and Hedlund's roles. Imagine Goggins in some version of Boyd Crowder exchanging verbal barbs with a villain played by Oscar Isaac. Now that's immensely more intriguing.
As it stands this psychological thriller doesn't thrill so much as it simply exists. Even with Oscar Isaac's magnetic charisma, the entire movie falls flat. Character motivations are half-baked. The plot is threadbare. The movie hints at a larger mystery, but instead of spending sufficient time setting up the suspense for it, Tom instead solves it offhandedly. It's a situation that could've been milked for dramatic effect, but is instead trotted out without fanfare.
All of this adds up to a herky-jerky film that feels like it's literally missing parts. The most interesting parts to be exact. It feels like we've been left with the flotsam with the real meat of the story out there, somewhere in the cinematic ether waiting to be told.
Though, that story definitely needs to be told with Goggins in one of the lead roles. Good grief, it's hard to fathom how Goggins isn't given a starring role here. Just think of it, that blurb could've said, "This thriller with 'Star Wars' and 'The Hateful Eight' stars is a must-see." And maybe this time it would've been true.
The Blu-Ray: Disc Stats
This is a single-disc release that comes packaged in a standard keepcase with a digital copy code. Barebones stuff.
Detail here is particularly unimpressive as every shot appears far too soft for high definition. The best detail is to be had in the desert. Once the movie moves into the city all bets are off. There are a few close-up shots that reveal discernible facial details, but nothing that screams out as exceptional. Mid- and long-range shots are the worst. The image is soft and at times downright blurry. I never saw 'Mojave' when it was running on DirecTV's on demand, but one imagines it looked about the same. Still, it's not great.
Colors are dull and not just because they're supposed to look that way. The whole movie looks dull. The colors lack pop. Black areas are particularly ugly featuring nothing that could be considered approaching inkiness. Instead black areas appear washed out. Shadows are all-consuming. The campfire scene offers the only real good looking nighttime shots in the entire movie and that's because there's a strong light source. Every other dimly-lit scene turns out murky and dismal. Banding is also visible in numerous scenes. Especially around fades.
As a low-budget production I guess it's not that big of a surprise. However, one should reasonably expect that a Blu-ray look better than DVD quality. This does not.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track offers a little bit more in the way of high-def quality. Yet, it doesn't find any opportunities to fully realize its potential.
One thing that can be said for 'Mojave's mix is that dialogue is distinctly clear. Very clear. It might be mixed even a little too high considering the surrounding sound effects are a little low. Dialogue sticks out rather brashly as the surrounding channels are given soft, almost non-existent ambient sound. The best surround sound offered in the movie is when Tom screams at the howling coyotes. Coyotes can be heard howling all around. The rest of the movie is decidedly centered up front with overloud dialogue.
Low-end frequencies are just OK. They are neither impressive nor disappointing. They're just there. A few elements of the score require some deep bass and the sub-woofer responds in kind. A car wreck provides some more low-end fanfare. However, these are few and far between. And when they do happen the LFE is workmanlike in its resolve.
A Doppelganger and the Desert: Making 'Mojave' (HD, 9 min.) – A quick, promotional behind-the-scenes featurette that has interviews with Hedlund, Isaac, and Monahan.
Deleted Scenes (HD, 17 min.) – Believe it or not there are actually 17 minutes cut out of this film. That totals 12 different scenes in all. Believe me when I tell you that you definitely don't want to know the about the scenes that were left on the cutting room floor for this movie. Just move along.
It had promise. Oscar Isaac really is quite a talent and the idea of him playing a homicidal nutcase was especially beguiling. However, as soon as you enter the world of 'Mojave' you realize why this was an on demand release instead of a wide theatrical one. It's just not very good, and even its star power can't save it. With middling audio and disappointing video this is one to skip.