The Rover

UK Release Date 15th August 2014
Director David Michôd
Starring Guy Pearce
Runtime 103 Minutes
Certificate 15
Reviewer Si
Reviewed 11th August 2014

It seems many of the reviews I’m writing at the moment start with me admitting another piece of cinematic incompetence. I’m starting to wonder if I’ve actually seen any movies at all. The latest omission to add to the heinous list is David Michôd. Somehow I have contrived to entirely miss his much feted debut, Animal Kingdom. Having experienced his second directorial effort, that is yet another one to add to the catchup pile….

For The Rover, Michôd has re-teamed with Guy Pearce to bring a refreshingly interesting take on the world post-apocalypse. Pearce plays Eric (though I’m pretty sure his name isn’t spoken at any point in the movie), a man with one last possession in Australia, ten years after an event referred to only as ‘the collapse’. Sitting drinking alone in what remains of a bar, a car bounces past the window and grinds to a halt down the road. The bickering occupants bail out and take the first car they see, Eric’s. Eric frees the gang’s broken truck and gives low speed chase. An encounter with the gang leaves him unconscious in the outback. From there, Eric chances upon one of the gang, the brother of the leader, Rey (Robert Pattinson). Rey was injured in the shootout at what was presumably a heist (it’s never made clear) and was left for dead by the fleeing gang.

After discovering the connection between Rey and his missing car, Eric takes Rey to a doctor to have his gunshot wound treated before forcing Rey to take him to his brother’s gang’s hideout. Along the way the odd couple’s antagonism to each other recedes as Eric gives Rey the protection and to a certain level companionship that he has clearly been lacking.

There are a couple of things I want to get off my chest about this movie before I get into it. Number one, if you’re not big on protracted takes with very little dialogue (and possibly slightly too much breathing), you are really going to struggle with this movie. And number two, if giant plot contrivances ruin your fun, you may find yourself yelling at the screen pretty early on here. To elaborate slightly on the second one without any plot spoiler, after initially catching up with the gang and violently threatening them without any weapons, the gang (who have just left what looks like most of, an admittedly small, town dead) elect to knock Eric out and not only leave him in the bush with their truck but also with the keys. This isn’t the only monumental showing of stupidity by characters in this movie but, jeez, it really is eyeball rolling. However, if you’re good with the first point and can deal with the second…..

The Rover is a genuinely interesting take on the world, post-apocalypse. We’ve seen similar movies before dealing with a variety of consequences from a variety of world consuming disasters but this one stands out for a few reasons. Primarily we never get any explanation as to why the world went to pot but crucially, we’re left with a world that looks like it could very easily exist. There are no Mad Max style gangs roaming the hills with tooled up cars and entertaining outfits and the dangers in this world don’t come in the form of mutated wild animals or zombies. The dangers here are far more real. Like a shopkeeper with a shotgun who has just had it up to here with people asking for directions but never actually buying anything.

This is echoed in every aspect of the production design. The humans wear normal clothing; Pearce sports a weekend sales rep style look with long shorts, a filthy shirt and dirty running shoes, Pattinson a grubby t-shirt and jeans both of which aren’t quite the right size. Shops and streets look rundown but not destroyed and military personnel drive around in slightly dilapidated hummers but wear recognisable combat fatigues. Everything is slightly off but this is a million miles away from the post-apocalypse we’ve been sold many times before.

The characters are barely sketched which is either an issue or part of the point of this godless, lawless land. We get a burst of information from Eric when he is captured by the military but we never really get to know him, similar is true of Rey. I don’t have a problem with taciturn characters but I can’t help but think that the gut-wrenching payoff would have hit home more if we’d known more about the leads. But then, that would have diminished the horrific vacuum that Michôd has brilliantly created here. 

We're used to movies where human life means nothing but the sheer level of nothing in The Rover is an impressive achievement. “God feels nothing for you” Eric tells Rey at one stage, the younger man having professed his belief that God will not let any harm come to him. And it’s difficult not to agree with Eric. This is a world where a shopkeeper will shoot you for asking one too many questions and where military personnel will ship fugitives back to Sydney not because they have proof of any wrongdoing - in fact the word fugitive is pretty misleading - but because they want to prove to the people that pay their wages that there is a point in them being there. And then there is Eric. A man silently screaming out for somebody to care enough about anything that he has done to actually do something about it. It's a futile scream, there are no good answers here.

In the central roles Pearce and Pattinson are a perfect fit. Pearce’s ragged beard twists as Eric’s features tell more than his sparse dialogue ever could and Pattinson, all filthy teeth and jittery eye movements, manages to capture a simple minded character that evokes pity and revulsion in equal measure.

So what we have is a magnificently bleak, believable and soul-crushingly savage tale of what could happen if everything goes pop and we’re all left to fend for ourselves. Michôd paints his Australia with a grainy sun-bleached texture, reminiscent of Kotcheff’s masterpiece Wake in Fright, making a bleak beauty of the ravaged landscape. It’s not without flaws but there is no doubting the effectiveness of The Rover and its final scene…. well, it can’t be talked about here as it would spoil your experience but suffice to say, it could well evoke a tear or two.

Check out the trailer here.

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