Director: David Michôd
Starring: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson
The Rover takes the Australian post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max and strips away the high-octane intensity. What’s left however, is the sense of hostility, and in this film, you can feel it in the air. David Michod, who’d previously directed the similarly belligerent Animal Kingdom, utilizes this hostility in a multitude of long takes of cold dead stares, oftentimes that of a Guy Pearce who’s never been more menacing. Apocalyptic aftermaths in storytelling have always been a prominent interest of mine, as the feeling of lawlessness across forgotten cities and wastelands bears a similar potential to that of a great western. And that’s exactly what The Rover creates, an end-of-the-world western featuring the finalities of regret and hopelessness, and the desperate clinging to whatever closure one can find. Any film lover can appreciate a successful crossing-over of genres, and I can’t think of anything cooler than an arthouse post-apocalyptic western.
The story is painfully simple. Guy Pearce plays Eric (whose name is only revealed in the credits), a silent man who goes into a bar, ten years after an economic collapse sent the world into chaos. While inside, a band of men fleeing a crime scene steal his car. Eric chases the men, and in a confrontation gets a gun pointed to his head. This doesn’t stop him, and he attempts to choke one of the men before being knocked unconscious himself. This is only the first instance we see of Eric’s recklessness, which is almost a death wish. When he wakes up he buys a gun and finds a young man (the brother of one of them) that the gang had left behind, Rey (Robert Pattinson). Eric threatens to murder Rey unless he can help him get his car back.
The dialogue is vague and obtuse, sometimes revealing small details about characters that are irrelevant to the story and that will turn audiences off from the film altogether. While I understand this could be seen as difficult to appreciate, it does gather a sense of realism that many film dialogs are lacking. There is also a slowness, a mundanity in the film that I imagine is in Michod’s attempt to accurate depict not only the story, but the depressing vision of the reviving world. Within the first half hour or so, some audience members may be under the impression that there’s no payoff, but I will assure those people two things without spoiling anything. You will learn two things before the film is over:
- Why Eric wants his car back.
- The source of his anger and despair.
Much of the obstacles that Eric and Rey encounter are struggles of action and consequence, which can be seen as a recurrent theme of The Rover. Eric’s acts of violence, whether they are justified or not, frequently see the duo to deeper troubles. But it was an action that had no consequence whatsoever that racks Eric’s brain as he threatens and grunts his way across the Australian outback. He doesn’t smile nor smirk a single time in its 102 minutes.
Then there is Rey, who acts as Eric’s only relationship for the film, a relationship truly worthy of analysis. Despite being under constant threat by Eric, Rey doesn’t so much as hesitate to help him, and doesn’t think to betray him when the opportunities arise. Maybe its because Rey sees something good in Eric. Maybe its because he holds the abandonment his brother committed against him. Rey speaks under thick layers of dialect, and doesn’t show much intelligence when he talks, but when he acts he is quick-witted and resourceful. He wants his brother’s love, to a fault almost, but he’s sharper than he leads on.
This film is taut, well-realized, and underrated. Some of its presentation may be off-putting at first, and there’s a song about two-thirds of the way through that most certainly be there. Aside from that, this is likely my favorite performance from both Pearce and Pattinson. Some may see The Rover as nihilistic, but they’ll see in the final scenes that it does indeed have a heart.