(William Monahan, USA, 2015)
Even by its own hard-boiled, trashy standards, Mojave has very little to offer. For all of the scenery-chewing, it doesn't feel particularly indulgent; the movie instead suffers from a thinness, a sketch-like, perfunctory effect. Mojave is plays like an extended short, drawing a simple set-up into a feature-length thriller that simmers lazily. Monahan's macho stylings are at least as grating as his clumsy importing of seminar-fresh lit references, all of which is designed to inform his framing of Hollywood as - yes - an intellectually vapid, morally corrupt wasteland. There's some personal drama here, but it hovers above the action of the film, rather than generating it: Monahan's frustrations and ambivalence as a literary-minded man who has come to Hollywood to make his fortune. The problem is that he has nothing new to offer this perennial tale; no new insights into the stew of venality, privilege, and ambition; no new consciousness of the ghosts of history that reside in the shadows, no feeling for the place or the people. It's pure pastiche, all the way down, and the fact that some of the references are worthy enough does nothing to make up for Monahan's lack of imagination. We've got the lithe French actress, the louche producer, the spoiled, authenticity-starved pretty boy, and a mysterious drifter-cum-serial killer (who knows his Shakespeare and his Melville.)
All of which portrays a very familiar place: the Hollywood of the half-insider. Monahan has had as much success as any screenwriter could hope for, and, naturally, wants to expand his palette and his control beyond the necessarily limited range of his craft. But as a director he plays things safe, trading on warmed-over tropes and spent motifs; he wants to be above the fray, but is, it would appear, afraid of losing the appeal of his "brand." What manifests is a feeling of exhaustion and resentment, of a director who has fantasies of walking away, or even of burning bridges, but who is hamstrung by the fear of his own stranger inspirations.