Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: David Michod
Stars: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, David Field, Scoot McNairy, Anthony Hayes, Nash Edgerton, Susan Prior, Gillian Jones.
David Michod broke through to the consciousness of Australian and international audiences with his gritty crime drama Animal Kingdom. Expectations were high for his follow up film, and while The Rover doesn’t quite hit the same heights as Animal Kingdom it is a stylistically interesting if bleak, violent and downbeat drama set in the not too distant future and this genre piece may well divide audiences. The Rover gives us a bleak post-apocalyptic view of Australia “ten years after the collapse”, and its grim visual style will remind many of the classic Mad Max. Australia has become an economic wasteland, in which food and supplies are scarce. In this lawless environment there is an air of mistrust and paranoia amongst the populace, and an everyman for himself mentality pervades society. Shopkeepers carry shotguns to protect both themselves and their property in the more remote and desolate areas.
Eric (a terrific, stripped back performance from Guy Pearce) is a former soldier who driving across the desolate outback on some mysterious personal mission when he stops in a small town for a quick drink. While he is inside a karaoke bar, a trio of crooks on the run from a recent robbery crash their car outside. They steal Eric’s car and head off into the distance. Eric is determined to get his car back and sets off in dogged and single minded pursuit, full of murderous rage. Along the way he encounters Rey (Robert Pattinson, in a role that is a far cry from his work in Twilight), the feeble minded brother of one of the robbers, who was wounded in a shootout and left for dead by his colleagues.
With Rey in tow like a faithful dog, Eric tracks down the robbers. But along the way Eric encounters a variety of people, from mercenary dwarfs to a sympathetic vet (Susan Prior) to a cold hearted grandmother (Gillian Jones) who sells her grandson to strangers for sex. Along the way there is a trail of corpses and bloodletting that would please the likes of Tarantino, although the violence here is handled in a cold and more realistic fashion. And the final denouement is a contrivance that may come as something of a disappointment and a bit of a letdown for many.
Pearce seems comfortable moving between big budget blockbusters like Iron Man 3 and smaller, more independent films like The Rover. But rarely has he played a character this tough, amoral and ruthless, but he plays the taciturn hero effectively. Most of his interactions with other characters are punctuated with sudden bursts of gunfire. Pattinson has been trying to shake off his hunky Twilight image with some different roles to varied degrees of success (Bel Ami, the enigmatic financial drama Cosmopolitan, etc) and here he plays against type with his radical Slingblade-like haircut, dirty teeth and speech that consists of half-formed words and guttural grunts. While he delivers a good performance in a tricky role, his presence here may disappoint his legion of teenage female fans.
Michod has also cast the supporting roles well. David Field makes the most of his usually villainous presence and brings a sense of menace to his performance as the leader of the robbers. American import Scoot McNairy (Monsters, the upcoming offbeat comedy Frank, etc) plays Rey’s hard nosed older brother. Anthony Hayes has a small role as an ineffectual military commander.
Dialogue is sparse indeed in this minimalist script from Michod and co-writer Joel Edgerton, and the film plays out like a contemporary nihilistic western. The ominous music score from Antony Partos also enhances the unsettling atmosphere that Michod has created. Natasha Braier’s cinematography captures the heat and dust of the setting and gives this inhospitable landscape a strange and unsettling beauty.