The Rover (2014) / Thriller-Adventure
MPAA Rated: R for language and some bloody violence
Running Time: 102 min.
Cast: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy, David Field, Tawanda Manyimo, Susan Prior
Director: David Michod
Screenplay: David Michod
Review published June 22, 2014
The Rover is an existential, Western-tinged revenge thriller set in the anarchic outback of Australia ten years after the world has collapsed economically. There are few good guys left, and certainly none to really be found in this story written and directed by David Michod (Animal Kingdom), which he conceived of with actor Joel Edgerton. It is a desolate and unforgiving world depiction that puts us in the position of following lowlifes who fight other lowlifes for a sparser piece of what's left worth killing for.
Guy Pearce (Iron Man 3, Prometheus) stars as Eric, who risks his own life and limb in order to secure the return of his stolen car from a trio of thugs. He loses their trail only to find it again when he grabs hold of Rey (Pattinson, Water for Elephants), the brother of one of the perpetrators, who was left behind during one of their deadly scuffles. Eric coerces Rey into helping him find the car thieves, and eventually becomes he more impressionable man's mentor of sorts.
The Rover explores a time in which lawlessness has ruled the day, culminating in a demoralized society that values nothing and no one except one's own self. It's a minimalist plotline of a man trying to get back his car, but mines some interesting thematic ideas underneath the thin surface. Bad omens abound, from vultures to crucifixions, as Michod paints nearly every environment with a mix of sickliness and death. Though it's impossible not to evoke comparisons, it's not an action flick in the Mad Max sense, as it is much more slow and nihilistic in a way that will make some compare it to Cormac McCarthy's, "The Road". With its strange, intentionally off-putting electronic score and a menagerie of oddball characters, the film keeps one toe in the realm of the surreal throughout its underlying grittiness.
Pearce gives off an alternation between world-weariness and simmering rage that is palpable in many scenes, where we feel as if one misstep on the part of someone could mean the difference between life and death. Michod sets this tone early, not quite letting us root for Eric, leaving us a bit leery just what this protagonist is really all about in his dangerous quest to get a car. Is there something in the vehicle he wants, or is he just bitterly resentful of this country's decade-long descent into outlaws taking whatever they want without consequence? And yet, we watch as he seems no better than the amoral thieves he is chasing down.
As great as Pearce is, it is an American-accented Pattinson that truly transforms himself as Rey, the mentally impaired, emotionally needy chatterbox who becomes Eric's willing accomplice, perhaps in order to reunite with his brother. Some will be reminded of George and Lenny in Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" in the relationship between Eric and Rey, and others may more adeptly realize just why Eric would tolerate such a loyal, dumb companion for so long. In one of the standout scenes of the film, Rey sits in a car listening to Keri Hilson's R&B/pop hit, "Pretty Girl Rock", singing along to lines such as "Don't hate me 'cause I'm beautiful," which might also be said by the actor to his critics trying to pigeonhole him as nothing but a teen heartthrob without talent.
The Rover is about desperate men living in desperate times, where guns and gas are really the only commodities worth bargaining for. Its sparse explanations leave much room for us to fill in the blanks about what it all means, if it means anything at all, ourselves. In perhaps the most telling line of the film, Rey begins to relate a story that Eric questions the meaning of, to which the younger man states, "Not everything has to be about something." There's some healthy irony involved in knowing a film with the word "Rover" in the title could end up being a shaggy-dog story when it's all said and done.
©2014 Vince Leo