Starring: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy
Ten years after ‘The Collapse’, the Australian Outback is a lawless wasteland. After having his only possession, his car, stolen, drifter Eric (Pierce) sets out on a mission to track down the three men that stole it. Through sheer chance, Eric meets Rey (Pattinson), who has been injured and left for dead by his brother Henry (McNairy), who also happens to be the ringleader of the group that stole Eric’s car. With Rey as his reluctant accomplice, as he knows where Henry is going, Eric travels across this desolate and dangerous land and the two of them have far more similarities and influence on each other than they would have ever thought possible.
Or another way of putting it: Some drongos still Guy Pearce’s car and he gets a bit annoyed about this, so he steals a gun from a midget and sets off to get it back, taking some bloke along the way. That is pretty much the gist of The Rover; it is a film of minimal storytelling or exposition. This is of course not necessarily a bad, and I love a cryptic film as much as the next pretentious film fan, but as enjoyable as The Rover is as a one-off view, there really is no substance to match Michȏd’s effectively bleak and uncompromising style.
The film simply opens with “Australia. Ten years after the collapse.” and as the narrative progresses there are hints as to what exactly ‘the collapse’ was and to what scale it occurred on, but to start to piece together these little cryptic clues is purely a waste of time. It doesn’t matter, Michȏd may not even know, either way it certainly sets the scene for the story of our two characters, but knowing anymore than the basics would in no way enhance the experience of The Rover’s narrative. It is a very well made and acted character study, but lacks the sucker punch and emotional heft of Michȏd’s last film, Animal Kingdom, which in my view was a masterpiece in bleak tension cinema.
With this being a character study, great performances are of course a must and Pearce and Pattinson deliver. Pearce has always been a magnificent actor, and in a role he always excels in where a brooding and dangerous screen presence needs to be demonstrated with effective subtlety, is magnetic as Eric. Sometimes just the look is in his eyes tells a story more effectively than any clunky exposition could. Though admittedly some of Pierce’s angry expressions (especially when his car gets stolen) raise unintentional titters. In a role that is in some ways more challenging, as it would be so easy to overplay the role to the point of parody, Pattinson once again excels, exploring Rey’s simplistic naivety and vulnerability with a committed and physical performance.
Michȏd’s sparse script makes every word of dialogue count as there are brief moments of expositional or philosophical dialogue that add great depth to both characters, and make them increasingly engaging as the narrative of what is essentially a road movie goes along. However, as interesting as the characters are to watch when on screen, once they are no longer there, they have no lasting impact on the memory as the credits role.
Guy Pearce wanting to get his car back is what drives (no pun intended) the narrative, and the reasoning for that is explored very effectively, but it involves over analysing a film that can very easily be over analysed. Only Michȏd knows what it all means, or it may be the case that he doesn’t and is just being intentionally cryptic to make the audience over analyse every single word and image (if that is the case then imdb message boards would suggest he has been very successful), and so the audience explain his back story for him. The Rover is essentially a mood piece (and a very grumpy one it is too), and the mood is only enhanced effectively by Natasha Braier’s desert dry cinematography and Antony Partos’ wonderfully effective score that often contains a mixture on unsettling dissonant harmonies and sombre yet sinister resonant harmonies.
The fact is that despite containing some interesting philosophical dialogue and some very powerful and bleak imagery, The Rover is still ultimately a film of very hollow substance. Michȏd’s film offers nothing that hasn’t been seen before, and though its consistently bleak and uncompromising outlook is admirable, it makes the film ultimately very forgettable.
Michȏd proves once again to be a very talented filmmaker and with The Rover has crafted a bleak and ultimately uncompromising film that contains some fantastic imagery. However it is so uncompromising at times, that despite great performances it is very watchable but ultimately never has the substance to back up its abundance of style.