After his debut feature Animal Kingdom showed him to be a writer-director of huge talent David Michôd’s sophomore effort The Rover has been hotly anticipated. The trailers offered a glimpse into a bleak world in which a bedraggled Guy Pearce seemed to be on a no-holds-barred revenge mission. The resulting film however is not quite what it appears.
In a near future, where the world is seemingly on the brink of complete anarchy after an event simply referred to as The Collapse, Eric (Guy Pearce) stops his car for something to drink. Whilst inside a gang of crooks, led by Henry (Scott McNairy), on the run from the authorities crash their truck and steal Eric’s car. Determined to retrieve his stolen vehicle Eric gives chase and along the way encounters Henry’s younger brother Rey (Robert Pattinson), left for dead at the scene of the crime.
The Rover is a strange beast, at times it seems to want to hint at something bordering on emotional turmoil but for the most part it resides in a form of nihilism that is both arid and alienating. We don’t know why Eric is so attached to his car (until the very end at least) but we do know that he is a man firmly on the edge of existence without a care in the world, other than his precious four wheels. It’s a Western by any other name, a futuristic hybrid of Eastwood’s Unforgiven meets John Ford’s The Searchers.
Visually it’s arresting, Michôd utilising Australia’s vast nothingness of outback to capture Eric’s odyssey into darkness. The sound design is staggering with a score played loudly and often intrusively to disorientate before moments of silence erupt into single gunshots which will have you leaping at the juxtaposition. The violence is sparse but when it hits it hits like a freight train. Imagine if Terrence Malick were to direct a Mad Max movie and you’re some way to understanding the kind of beast that The Rover is. The problem is it often feels drawn out, Rey and Eric sitting around basking in Michôd’s visuals rather than actually forwarding the plot.
But it works best when the pair are forming a strange but affecting bond. Although originally taken as a hostage by Eric, Rey soon becomes an ally. Often cowardly Rey seems to learn from Eric as he trudges through this desolate world. But Rey is not quite all there; he’s part redneck part innocent fool, a strange combination of The Simpsons’ Cletus meets Forrest Gump.
While the story sometimes feels lacking the two central performances are fascinating to behold. Pattinson continues his upward trajectory as a bona fide acting talent after David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis. As Rey he’s banished his matinee idol good lucks for a brown-toothed, sweaty rogue. His constant twitches later giving way to a character deeply affecting in his gradual emotional awakening. Pearce on the other hand carries that same brooding Clint Eastwood demeanor he showed in The Proposition. His hair a mess, he steal-gazes his way through The Rover often looking on the verge of suicide before offing those around him instead. Together they make for an intriguing match and it is thanks to them, and the characters Michôd has concocted, that the film works.
Whilst it doesn’t live up to his debut The Rover proves that Michôd is a director with a loud bark, just be warned that the climax may leave you slack-jawed with befuddlement.