Director: David Michôd.
Screenplay: David Michôd.
Starring: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy, David Field, Tawanda Manyimo, Gillian Jones, Jamie Fallon, Susan Prior, Anthony Hayes, Nash Edgerton, Richard Green, Ben Armer, Gerald Coulthard.
“You should never stop thinking about a life you’ve taken. That’s the price you pay for taking it”
After the surprise success of his Australian family crime drama Animal Kingdom, David Michôd became a highly anticipated new director overnight. It opened to rave reviews with Quentin Tarantino himself reportedly ranking it his third favourite movie of 2010. The most familiar face onboard was Guy Pearce but it also introduced many cinema goers to the fresh and vibrant talents of Joel Edgerton, Ben Mendelsohn and Jacki Weaver. Now four years later, Michôd’s back with a post-apocalyptic road movie working from a story he collaborated on with Edgerton and allows Pearce to add another solid role to his resumé.
Ten years after an economic collapse, modern society has been brought to it’s knees. Travelling through Australia is Eric (Guy Pearce) a former farmer with a violent past. When his beloved car is stolen by a gang of thieves Eric goes in pursuit and will, seemingly, stop at nothing to get it back.
When exploring the Australian outback in a dystopian setting one would be forgiven for thinking of George Miller’s Mad Max in 1979 but as that film had fantastical elements and caricature villains, Michôd’s The Rover is an altogether different beast. It’s no fantasy and any form of humour only comes in the blackest of dialogue. This is a near-future economic collapse that’s so bleak that images of people crucified to telegraph poles is just accepted and dogs are kept in cages just to keep them alive.
It’s grim stuff and Michôd seems to wallow in it. He’s also in no rush to reach his destination; the story is ambiguous, the pacing deliberate and some would even complain that it lacks any form of narrative drive. However, it’s nihilism can be strangely captivating and it’s so well shot by cinematographer Natasha Braier that’s its hard not to find some beauty in it’s stark landscapes.
Throughout it’s periodic lulls, it’s held together by it’s two excellent central performances. The always reliable Pearce is a snarling menace of a man who has adapted to survive in this environment at the cost of his own soul. And Pattinson. Yes! Twilight pin-up, Robert Pattinson, surprisingly, holds his own. I expected to be critical of him but he delivers revelatory work as a dim-witted tag-along complete with facial tics and nervous energy and I’m sure his work here will silence many of his critics (myself included). Where both their performances excel is actually in their eyes. They deliver the requisite empty and dead-eyed stare of men who have been reduced to nothing more than barbarism. That barbarism comes in sudden bursts of mindless violence that jolt you out of your seat and the gun shots, bullet wounds and deaths all have a palpable sense of realism.
Despite the marvellous performances, striking appearance and visceral approach, though, the story lacks depth and if it did have a consistency beyond veiled existentialism then I must have missed it. Essentially, there isn’t really a story but it’s the ending that will no doubt make or break a viewer’s experience. Either you’ll feel convinced and that it has meaning in exploring the last vestige of hope and decency from a desperate and broken man or you’ll feel robbed and that the steak you thought you were savouring for an hour and 45 mins turns out to be just an old piece of leather. It’s entirely up to you.
Much like the the hair style of Pearce’s character, it’s patchy. But it’s hard to take your eyes away. I can’t honestly say why I liked it, I just know I did.
Trivia: David Michôd wrote the character of Eric specifically for Guy Pearce. Originally Michôd and Joel Edgerton were to do the screenplay for Edgerton’s brother, Nash, to direct the film.