Forceful performances buoy David Michôd's visceral, if overly familiar, 'The Rover'
The Rover A24 Films
Director: David Michôd
Screenplay: David Michôd
Starring: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy, Gillian Jones, Susan Prior, Tawanda Manyimo and David Field
Rated R / 1 hour, 43 minutes
June 20, 2014
(out of four)
So we've all collectively come to the agreement that, when modern civilization crumbles, all that will be left is a sweaty, lawless hellscape, right? OK good, I just wanted to make sure The Rover was still in line with the status quo.
I'm not exactly sure when we agreed on this particular postapocalyptic template, but at this point it comes across as something of a crutch for filmmakers who can't envision anything else.
I say this with respect to writer/director David Michôd, whose follow-up to 2010's Animal Kingdom is vividly realized and engrossing. His take on a now-common template is certainly one of the more visceral ones; it's just lacking much imagination. I wondered, as I watched the film, how much that mattered. Ultimately it all came back to the way so many great movies - especially those set in some kind of future or netherworld - have an indelible sense of place; with The Rover, that "place" is more of an assembly-line creation rather than a unique vision of a fictional future. It comes alive in its moments of quiet, in its moments of high drama, in the sheer authority of its performances. But it can't fully escape its resemblance to a milieu that has already become so culturally ubiquitous. (I was reminded of another Guy Pearce movie, John Hillcoat's great The Proposition, which - while not postapocalyptic - nonetheless felt that way. That movie, in a vaguely similar setting to The Rover, felt strange and otherworldly, almost mythological. There's no such idiosyncrasy here.)
That being said, I don't wish to discount what Michôd accomplishes here, which is still pretty gripping in its own right. As familiar as the postapocalyptic wasteland is, he's not treating it merely as set dressing; the film, set a decade after "the Collapse," takes the loss of morality and order seriously, particularly the more we learn about the central (unnamed*) figure played by Guy Pearce (which, thankfully, still isn't much).
* While his name is never stated in the film, the credits identify him as "Eric."
There's an inherent meaninglessness to this world - and the actions of those left in it - that weighs heavily on Pearce's character. He's both numb to it - as we can see with the way he casually guns down the man selling him that very gun - and emotionally consumed by it. In the middle of his, for lack of a better word, journey in The Rover, he finds himself alongside Rey (Robert Pattinson), a halfwit whose brother left him for dead after a robbery. Eric, who only speaks when it's absolutely necessary, looks on in consternation as Rey cheerfully tells a seemingly pointless and long-winded anecdote. "Why are you telling me this?" Eric asks, and begins to probe the story, not necessarily for grand meaning, but at least for an explanation as to why Rey has decided to relay it this time, instead of simply keeping silent.
"Not everything has to mean something," is the gist of Rey's response.
Later on, after Rey has gunned someone down in the middle of a firefight, he confesses that he can't stop thinking about the body of the person he shot. "Don't forget," Eric tells him. "You should never stop thinking about a life you take; that's the price you pay for taking it."
Indeed, that seems to be the only price - that, or someone else taking your life in response. No one else is coming after you. The one appearance of any kind of law enforcement is short-lived.
There's a darkly comical introduction to that permeating sense of insignificance. We're first introduced to Eric as he parks his sedan on the side of a dirt road and walks across the way to a ramshackle bar to grab himself a drank. After a few moments, we cut to a group of three amateur crooks - most importantly Henry (Scoot McNairy) - in a truck speeding down that same road. After a struggle between the three, their truck crashes and gets stuck on the side of the road. No bother - they just steal Eric's car and hightail it out of there.
Eric takes this is a great personal offense and, after getting the thieves' truck unstuck, goes chasing after them, insisting that he wants his car back. They refuse. The scenario itself is funny - Henry refuses to trade cars, while Eric insists on getting his own back, rather than just keeping their truck for himself - but it turns into a bleakly absurd odyssey, as Eric makes it his mission to find the thieves and get his car back. It just so happens that the injured halfwit he runs into is Henry's brother, and may just have a clue about where he and his cohorts are headed.
The car may or may not have special significance or purpose to Pearce's character. Or perhaps at this point in time for this man, getting his car back is excuse enough to have something to live for. There are answers in The Rover, and actually kind of poignant ones. But it's the emptiness of this hellish future that strikes at Eric's heart, stoking the fires of the capacity for evil within him as well as his capacity for guilt. It's an exceptional performance from Pearce - there's a controlled sense of madness and anger in him that's fascinating to watch - and Pattinson gives his best performance yet as Eric's somewhat unwilling, and uncertain, companion. The film is at its best when it's a two-hander between Pearce and Pattinson, as their characters - whose understanding of the world could not be more at odds - reconcile the absence of moral order in a world that's left them for dead.