From post apocalyptic America in Mr. Burns on stage, to post apocalyptic Australia in the second film by Australian director David Michod, whose first film Animal Kingdom was very well received. If there’s a lesson to learn from The Rover, it could be – never steal someone else’s car, as it is this very action that is the catalyst for the rest of the story. However, that is probably an unfairly simplistic way to look at the film as a whole.
Set in the Australian outback ten years after what is referred to as “the collapse,” the film’s plot is driven (pun intended) by Eric, played by Guy Pearce and his determination to track down the men who have stolen his car. Along the way his path crosses with Rey, who is badly injured from a gunshot wound, but as one of the thieves’ brother, is in the unique position of guiding Eric to their location. Rey is also looking for payback for being left to die by his brother.
What begins as a form of captor/hostage relationship soon becomes something much more complex. Eric and Rey are certainly not friends, but they come to rely on each other, to a certain extent, as they make the journey through the desolate landscape. The film is shot in a very specific style – presenting this vast land in a way that highlights its beauty and its emptiness at once. Its grey and barren vistas perfectly enhance the desperate lives of those depicted in the story.
I did find the story rather miserable ad it is certainly not an easy film to watch. Parts of it feel quite slow, with little dialogue, which can begin to feel quite tiring. It’s also rather violent in places, although the unexpected moments of violence are very effective at jolting the audience. An example being Eric’s encounter with a travelling circus, who no longer travel. However, despite this film not really appealing to me and my personal tastes, the acting of its two leads is undeniably excellent. Guy Pearce is superb as Eric – a man of few words, whose life was clearly already desperate before the collapse and who is simply existing now rather than living. His face sometimes expresses so much without a word being uttered. He is certainly not a particularly likeable character, but he is made more human through his interaction with Rey.
Robert Pattinson, in a role polar opposite to the one he is inevitably most famous for, is very very good as Rey and it is him who the audience care about, if you can really like any of them at all. It’s clear Rey has always been dominated by his brother Henry, his opinion never sought or valued. Initially he refuses to accept that his brother would leave him for dead, but soon cannot fail to accept the truth and although an unlikely pair, he develops a bond with Eric.
Eric demands he talk for himself, something he has clearly rarely (if ever) done and through their journey together we see Rey grow in confidence as he begins to prove he isn’t as hopeless as Eric (or his brother) have thought. Pattinson’s performance as Rey, where every word is spoken with either a stutter, nervous twitch or mumble, with body language to perfectly complement it, is impressive. He plays Rey as someone who seems quite child-like and innocent even after he has killed. As an audience member, I knew I shouldn’t really like him, but I did slowly start to warm to him and that is in large part due to Pattinson’s performance.
David Michod’s world is also certainly believable. This isn’t a Mad Max-style futuristic apocalypse world, but a barren, crumbling place, where people are simply existing. There is still a reliance on money (US Dollars ironically) and I could believe that such a place could become a reality (although I wouldn’t want to experience it)! The mood of the film is enhanced by its score by composer Antony Partos. There may be little dialogue at times but his industrial, unsettling music fills the void and seems to match the tone of the film perfectly.
Both actors at the Q&A afterwards praised Michod, as a film maker who takes risks and lets the actors do the same. I can see how that must be appealing. It’s certainly an odd film, so I’m not entirely sure the risk paid off, as by the end I did wonder what the point of it all was. It certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but the central performances held my attention throughout and are impressive enough for me to give this film an average score (maybe a 3/5). I’ll be interested to see what people think once it’s released.
The Rover is released in the UK on 14th August 2014. See the trailer here: The Rover trailer