Even from a continent’s distance, the American Film Market, which began on Wednesday and continues until next Friday, tends to make me aware of a number of films that I previously had no idea were even at the germination stage, much less wrapped and ready to go. One such film is “Mojave,” the second directorial effort from William Monahan, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “The Departed.”
Monahan’s first venture behind the camera was a considerable disappointment. Based on a whip-smart novel by Ken Bruen and boasting a starry cast led by Colin Farrell and Keira Knightley, “London Boulevard” had the makings of A-grade pulp, but its ironic tone and genre gloss failed to gel — not least because Monahan chucked the clever “Sunset Boulevard” homage that was the novel’s entire comic point by casting a female lead (Knightley) at least thirty years too young for the part. A missed opportunity, then, but one sufficiently tangy and eccentric to keep me interested in Monahan’s future projects.
Unlike most of his filmed work, Monahan directed “Mojave” from an original screenplay: the synopsis gives little away, describing it as “an intense, classical thriller” about a brooding, violent artist who retreats to the desert and forms an antagonistic relationship with a homicidal drifter. The logline gives me inklings of John Dahl and Sam Shepard, though of course there’s a lot of tonal and narrative leeway there.
The casting is promising: Garrett Hedlund plays the artist, while Oscar Isaac plays the drifter. Both actors, of course, also appear in the Coen brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis,” which has Isaac as an actor of previously untapped substance and charisma. Hedlund, for his part, had an equivalent breakthrough in “On the Road” last year. Isaac’s chances of a Best Actor Oscar nomination for “Davis” have slipped into long-shot territory, but nevertheless, “Mojave” could benefit from his elevated profile when it opens, presumably, at some point in 2014. (Monahan also has a hand the screenplay for delayed sequel “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For,” coming up next year.)