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January 5, 2015
Besides my deepest regret for the lost chance to admire The Rover’s stunning cinematography on the silver screen upon its August theatrical release (summer holidays are to blame) three main truths were hard to ignore after my DVD catch up for its home entertainment release.
First off, crime drama Animal Kingdom (2010), Aussie writer/director David Michôd’s stunning debut, wasn’t a fluke: he is indeed one of the most exciting new filmmaking talents in the industry. Secondly, can anyone explain to me how in the world Guy Pearce has never been nominated for an Academy Award? Last but not least: as long as they choose the right material and are guided by the right filmmakers, teen heartthrobs might surprise you since dull “blood-sucker” Robert Pattinson demonstrates he can actually act.
The Rover is a gritty, bleak and mercilessly violent dystopian Western, set in the Australian outback ten years after a devastating economic collapse has left this undefined near-future world hurting and mostly outlawed. With crime and poverty constantly rising and small military patrol units not efficient enough to maintain order and control, anarchy reigns as people come from all over to seek survival.
Rey (Pattinson) is a Southern American who has travelled with older brother Henry (Scoot McNairy) to work in the Australian mines but the two men have wound up in a robbery gone wrong. An injured Rey is left behind (Henry will claim he thought Rey was dead) whilst Henry and two accomplices steal a car to continue their escape after their vehicle is damaged.
The car belongs to Eric (Guy Pearce), a misanthropic wanderer who looks and sounds profoundly hardened by life events we’re obviously bound to find out, although one of the film’s strengths is that of keeping his personal matters shrouded in mystery for as long as possible. All we know about Eric is that he owns that car and cares about it way more than its value as a vehicle.
The film opens with him sat at the wheel in a trance-like pondering state and his obsession with getting his car back drives the story and Eric’s involvement with Rey. The outraged loner takes the taciturn injured young man hostage and brings him to a doctor, so that once fixed up he can lead Eric to his car’s thieves. The film then mostly plays out as a road movie, disseminated with several threats and with a forced collaboration between captor and captive turning into an unlikely bond that goes way past Stockholm syndrome.
Michôd has underlined that “the film’s scenario is like a new gold rush, where people from all corners of the world have come out to the desert to scrape out an existence: petty criminals and miscreants and hustlers. The basic story is really quite elemental. You’ve got a really dark, dangerous, murderous person in Guy’s character, and in Rob’s character you have a quite troubled and damaged, but beautiful and naïve, soul.”
Based on a story the writer/director conceived with fellow Aussie actor friend and collaborator Joel Edgerton, The Rover’s tight script is dry but efficient, balancing out dialogue and visual storytelling to set the story and the world without needing the typically overstuffed exposition and grandeur of mainstream fare. The breathtaking Australian landscape is hauntingly photographed with a de-saturated, deathly look where desertification, vultures and slums perfectly convey a purgatory-like feel.
The talented filmmaker maintains mystery and tension throughout with the slow burning unraveling of Eric’s psyche and motivations outstandingly portrayed by a terrific and nuanced Pearce, one of the finest actors of his generation, whose mostly internalized performance is a thing to behold and whose inevitable emotional outbursts always come across as a measured and justified catharsis rather than over the top melodrama.
A few words need to be spent on Twilight’s Pattinson whom I’ve admittedly bashed on many an occasion but can no longer deny respect to, given his recent career choices like Cronemberg’s Cosmopolis (2012) and Maps To The Stars (2014) which are an evident effort to redeem his status from teen celebrity to well-rounded artist.
His portrayal of the allegedly half-wit Rey is commendable not just for the academic work on his Southern American accent or his wounded physicality but most importantly for capturing the complex sensibility of a young man betrayed by his own blood but finding an unexpected connection with a potential enemy in the ruthless, unforgiving world depicted in the film.
The former “vampire” has noted “how the film is very existential and it’s sort of about how much pain can the world take and how much disgust and cruelty before love dies.” It’s definitely an apt definition of the film’s themes and it’s probably the kind of filmmaking and storytelling that might turn off some but I believe has all the elements to intrigue and entertain both those who are in just for the thrills and those who look for something to reflect on once credits roll.
The only real shame is how The Rover seems to have fallen out of awards season’s radar. Maybe the main impression left was that of a low budget Mad Max but I agree with Michôd’s opinion on the topic: “you put cars in the Australian desert and people are going to think of Mad Max, and with all due respect to that film — and I stress that — I think The Rover is way more chillingly authentic and menacing.”
The Rover is released on DVD and Blu-Ray on January 5th
Cert: 15 BBFC / 15 IFCO
Disc: Single disc DVD / Single disc Blu-ray
RRP: £17.99 (DVD) / £17.99 (Blu-ray)
Features: Something Elemental: The Making of The Rover
Francesco Cerniglia – Film Editor