Set in a bleak post-apocalyptic Australia “10 years after the collapse”, “The Rover“, David Michôd’s highly anticipated follow up to Animal Kingdom is a terse and tense neo-western that examines the aftermath of society after it’s complete collapse.
The film opens with Eric (Guy Pearce), a haggard and hard-faced drifter, as he travels the desolate roads of the Australian outback. After his car is stolen by a group of criminals following a stop at a rundown roadside bar, Eric stumbles upon a wounded Rey (Robert Pattison), the brother of one of the criminals, and forces him to help track the gang (and his beloved car).
There is an air of familiarity about this film. The sparse dialogue and stoic anti-hero are western staples, as is the setting – barren countryside, dilapidated buildings, and dusty streets filled with grizzled inhabitants. And while lots of these types of films exist (“On The Road”, “No Country For Old Men”), this one is one of the few where the bleakness of the setting truly leaves you with the impression that the living are worse off than the deceased.
Michôd has also stripped down his film to match the slow degradation of the society that he’s presenting – there is no need for big sets or FX. Instead, Natasha Braier’s cinematography (which evokes Michôd’s earlier work and relies heavily on a number of drawn-out takes) and Antony Partos’s unsettling score are used to evoke the films dystopian misery.
However, what really elevates the film from the usual dystopian fare is the focus on the human condition rather than the setting. With little in the way of exposition, “The Rover” relies on powerhouse performances by Guy Pearce and Robert Pattison and leans heavily on Pearce’s ability to skilfully communicate deep-seated melancholy and anger with only his weary face.
Pearce’s Eric is the definition of the anti-hero – someone whose stoicism betrays a tortured soul, haunted by an unpunished immoral deed in his past, and it seems like the actor has gone to extreme lengths to brutally rebuff any attempt by the audience to fill his character with a sense of familiar heroism. Pearce really should be applauded as he’s been able to craft a protagonist who is wholly absorbing despite the characters laconic delivery and apparent emotional rigor mortis.
Though as good as Pearce is in the film, it’s Robert Pattinson’s scene stealing turn as the emotionally and mentally damaged Rey that truly brings this film to life. Rather than relying on his looks, Pattison employs a jumble of twitches, tics and awkward stammers to portray Rey’s inner confusion and turmoil. His ability to inject the character with the right amount of vulnerability, gentleness, and desperation is something that, quite frankly, I thought was beyond the actor. He also provided the film with one of its most captivating scenes (and a moment of much needed levity), a surreal moment that sees him singing along to Keri Hilson’s “Pretty Girl Rock”. There is no doubt about it, Pattinson took big risks with this role, and ultimately it’s paid off – he’s simply fantastic.
“The Rover” is a narratively simple and undeniably bleak film which at times verges on monotony. However, it’s also the perfect pallet cleaner for those who’ve grown tired of the endless raft of big-budget, FX-heavy, films which currently litter our screens. Fueled by the engaging performances of its leads, “The Rover” ultimately succeeds through its sheer watchability.
- Engaging Performances
- Restrained Directing
- Beautiful Cinematography
- Underdeveloped Plot
- Bleak Tone
- Weak Dialogue