MOVIE REVIEW: THE ROVER / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: DAVID MICHÔD / SCREENPLAY: DAVID MICHÔD / STARRING: GUY PEARCE, ROBERT PATTINSON, SCOTT MCNAIRY, GILLIAN JONES / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
David Michôd follows up his acclaimed, visceral 2010 debut Animal Kingdom with this stylish, bleak tale of obsession, hopelessness and brutal violence in a desolate and dusty Australia a decade after an unspecified disaster known as ‘the collapse’.
Guy Pearce is Eric, a virtually monosyllabic loner galvanised into action when a trio of on-the-run lawbreakers – we’re never told what crime they’ve actually committed – steal his car after crashing their own vehicle. Eric salvages their truck and sets off in hot pursuit and he vows to recover his car even before a stand-off ends with him beaten unconscious. Back at the crime scene, Rey (Pattinson), brother of the leader of the gang, is injured and bleeding. Eric and Rey fall in together and, with Rey patched up by a handy doctor, the pair join forces to track down Rey’s brother and his gang – and they both have very different axes to grind.
The Rover is almost shamelessly a film of style over content. Michôd's near-future is a world of dusty desperation, a society clinging on to civilisation and yet slowly running down. We never find out if ‘the collapse‘ is a worldwide catastrophe or merely an Antipodean apocalypse but it scarcely matters as it’s really just window-dressing, a barely-referenced but handy background detail. The story is driven by Eric’s relentless, sullen determination to get back what’s rightfully his; he’s very much a man who’s been pushed to the edge and is now plunging over it. The appropriation of his car is the last straw and he’ll let nothing and no one stand in his way as he and Rey cross the inhospitable Australian landscape in pursuit of his property.
Michôd’s script is lean and sparse and what’s left unspoken is often of more significance than what is said. Pearce genuinely chills as the impenetrable Eric and Robert Pattinson is a revelation as the twitchy, drawling, troubled Rey. Evocative cinematography and Antony Partos’ compellingly throbbing soundtrack help establish the tone and scale of The Rover but it’s the film’s aching sense of weariness and quiet dread which papers over the cracks when the already unhurried story slows to a crawl.
A fascinating and engrossing character study punctuated by sudden, blunt violence and yet with a tendency to drag its heels, The Rover comes off the rails in its very last scene, a real ‘Surely not?’ moment as the reason Eric’s obsessed with recovering his car is revealed. It has laugh-out-loud potential and it will almost certainly dog your lasting memories of The Rover – a title given an entirely unintended double-meaning by its plain silly resolution.
Expected Rating: 6 out of 10