(director/writer: William Monahan; cinematographer: Don Davis; editor: John David Allen; music: Andrew Hewitt; cast: Garrett Hedlund (Thomas),Oscar Isaac (Jack), Louise Bourgoin (Milly), Walter Goggins (Jim), Mark Wahlberg (Norman), Fran Kranz (Bob), Tim Soergel (Park Ranger), Cletus Young (Old Timer), Dania Ramirez (Detective Beaumont), Kylie Rogers (Sophie), Matt Jones (Insane Doorman), Ron Duncan (Mal), Oliver Cooper (Nick); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: R; producers; William Green, William Monahan, Justine Suzanne Jones, Aaron L. Ginsburg: A24/MICA Entertainment; 2015)

“Hedlund and Isaac give powerful downer performances, but things are as arid as the desert emotionally.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A moody thriller set in the desert with an elusive message by writer-director William Monahan  (“London Boulevard”) that has the two leads battling to see which one is the worse human being. If nothing else, it was entertaining and devilishly funny as a sour satire. It works best the more vague it is.

The unsympathetic, self-destructive, brooding, creative, egotistical movie director, Thomas (
Garrett Hedlund), whose marriage is on the rocks, with his wife and child living in England. He leaves his wealthy Beverly Hills scene while drunk to visit the Mojave desert to be alone with his demons, when his Jeep breaks down. He spends the evening by a campfire when he’s accosted by a sociopath philosophy and Shakespeare spewing wit, Jack (Oscar Isaac), a rifle carrying evil drifter who is on a killing spree (for how many kills he has you can check the notches on his rifle butt). Thomas overcomes Jack and his incessant irritating questions asked if he wants to save his soul. But the Hollywood man gives the drifter a beating after they tangle in a knife fight. Thomas ten bolts, and takes Jack’s rifle to go on the run. In the morning Thomas spots Jack trailing him and hides in a cave. When someone enters the cave, Thomas thinks it’s Jack and fatally shoots him. But it’s not Jack but a park ranger. Thomas steals the ranger’s gun and police car, leaves the rifle by the crime scene and returns to Los Angeles without reporting the accidental death.

In LA Thomas finds the beautiful actress Milly (
Louise Bourgoin) in his bed, meets with the former coke dealer, his hedonist producer Norman (Mark Wahlberg), and confers on phone with his sleazy agent-lawyer Jim (Walton Goggins) about what are the risks of reporting a murder that needs to be fully explained. The Hollywood scumbags offer fine comic relief performances.

Meanwhile the drifter comes to LA, murders a wealthy gay who is looking on the street for a gay prostitute. At the rich client’s apartment the drifter kills him and grooms himself, as he tries to fit into the LA scene while tracking down his prey. When he meets Thomas again, it comes down to playing Russian roulette to see who comes out of the situation alive.

Hedlund and Isaac give powerful downer performances, but things are as arid as the desert emotionally.

REVIEWED ON 8/18/2021  GRADE: B-