Director David Michôd made a splash in 2010 with his critically acclaimed debut film “Animal Kingdom”. The movie would capture many people’s attention as well as numerous awards nominations. “The Rover” is Michôd’s sophomore effort and in many ways it is vastly different from his first film. It’s a much more visual experience that employs atmosphere and environment over a stricter and more focused narrative. For some people that seems to have been a turn-off. I found it to be a fresh, unsettling, and thoroughly exhilarating package.
Michôd wrote the screenplay based on a story he created with actor Joel Edgerton. The film begins with the words “Australia. 10 Years after the collapse”. Basically the world economy has crumbled and the Australian Outback has dissolved into a violent dystopia. The rule of law has disintegrated with the exception of small groups of soldiers who occasionally patrol the areas. Two very different men come together on this wasteland. Eric (Guy Pearce) is a bitter and enigmatic loner. He always seems to be laboring to keep his violent anger under control. Rey (Robert Pattinson) is a very simple and dependent American who is left behind by his brother and accomplices after a robbery goes bad.
Rey’s brother Henry is played by Scoot McNairy who always delivers in small roles like this. After leaving a wounded Rey behind Henry and his crew steal Eric’s car after wrecking theirs. We quickly understand that Eric’s car is extremely important to him, perhaps the last thing of any value that he has left. He sets out to get it back and in doing so crosses paths with Rey. The two develop a tempestuous relationship as Eric’s barely bridled violence clashes with Rey’s emotionally delicate neediness. Eric keeps Rey close as a convenience. He needs to get Rey’s brother while Rey just needs someone to cling to.
The dialogue in “The Rover” is sparse and I had to adjust to its style of storytelling. But I quickly found myself enamored with the effectiveness of Michôd’s methods. I had no trouble comprehending the desolation and rigidity of the world these characters inhabit. I had no trouble seeing the violent complexities of Eric or the fractured yet sympathetic psyche of Rey.
We are asked to seek answers and information through our senses and I really responded to that. Michôd’s camera frames some truly captivating shots. I’m not familiar with Natasha Braier, but she was credited with the cinematography and I’ll definitely be looking for her name in the future. The two create a visually terrifying dystopian world that is both beautiful and threatening. Filming took place in the Australian desert and the cameras utilize the location to its fullest. All of this contributes to the storytelling but I do feel as if the film withholds small bits of meaningful information. I’m not saying I need or want everything spelled out for me. I think that would ruin the film. But just a touch more background would do wonders.
And how can I talk about the film and not mention the two lead performances? Readers of this blog will know that Guy Pearce is an absolute favorite of mine and his work here illustrates why. He gives one of my favorite performances of the year. He defines his character through several unconventional ways – through expressions, mannerisms, and even his bursts of violence. He hasn’t much dialogue but he doesn’t need it. He is mesmerizing. But for me the real revelation is Robert Pattinson, someone I’ve never believed in as an actor. Pattinson sheds every glimpse of his past “Twilight” pretty-boy status. It’s a very demanding role and I found myself shocked at how well he pulled it off. This could be a turning point for him.
In many ways “The Rover” reminded me of an end-of-the-world western. It quickly initiated thoughts of everything from “Mad Max” to “No Country for Old Men” to Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns. It’s a grubby, callous, and ferocious film that takes what looks like limitations and uses them as great strengths. This isn’t a movie that will resonate with everyone. It’s grim, violent, and hopeless. But it’s also captivating cinema that I couldn’t turn away from.