Thanks to Roadshow we got to see The Rover ahead of its June 12 cinema release. This is our review of the film, but – as usual – no matter what we say, we recommend that you still go to your local cinema and see the film because there is no better critic than yourself!
The Rover is David Michôd’s first outing since his critically acclaimed 2010 work, Animal Kingdom. The film reunites Michôd with producer Liz Watts and actor Guy Pearce (MEMENTO) alongside new producer David Linde and Robert Pattinson (TWILIGHT SAGA).
Set in post-apocalyptic Australia, 10 years after the ‘collapse’ as it is referred to, the land has become the home of transients, murderous carnival performers, Aboriginal kids, rent boys and locals who will stop at nothing to protect the few belongings they have left. There is little in the way of what we would refer to as ‘society’, with only a couple of shops remaining that mainly sell guns, ammo and petrol, where the shopkeepers greet their customers with a toothless smile and a shotgun.
It’s here in the scorched earth Australian dessert, that we meet Eric (GUY PEARCE), a former soldier turned farmer who now drifts alone through the vast emptiness of the landscape, with nothing but a brooding contempt for life and a callous detachment from the world.
At the start of the film he’s sitting in what passes for a bar in these uncivilised times when a car goes careening past the window in the background, which is both beautifully shot in slow motion and possibly the only light hearted moment in the film. Eric, however, does not even bat and eyelid as the background jukebox continues to facilitate his descent into oblivion.
But when the three occupants emerge from wreck, played by Scoot McNairy, David Field and Tawanda Manyimo, they steal Eric’s last earthy possession – his car. Eric then sets out on a mindless pursuit to reclaim what’s his no matter what the consequences.
It’s at this juncture that we meet Rey (ROBERT PATTINSON), the slow witted and injured brother of one of the bandits who comes across the crashed jeep of his brother that is now in the possession of Eric. Initial interrogations by Eric as to the whereabouts of his brother do not go according to plan as Rey passes out from his injuries. Eric is forced to seek a doctor for the simpleton as he is the only clue to the whereabouts of his beloved car.
From then on the pair strike up an unlikely partnership as they seek out Rey’s brother and his companions in what becomes a vengeful quest for both of them with their own agenda’s – Eric to retrieve his car and Rey to avenge his being left for dead.
To say this feature is as bleak as the terrain it is set in would be an understatement. Bleak but beautiful as is the harsh world that sets the backdrop for the picture. There are three undeniable stars of The Rover – Pearce, Pattinson and the Australian landscape that is equal measures stunning, dangerous and unyielding.
Pearce’s portrayal of Eric is unapologetically brutal. Whilst you spend the beginning of the film trying to figure out if he’ll be the hero or villain of the story, the more the picture goes on the more you realise that he is neither – just a survivor.
Through the film, you get glimpses into his past as he recounts, matter of factly, the demise of his family which gives the audience an insight into his character before the collapse – one that is hauntingly similar to the man he is today. It’s almost as though his society has changed to suit his character rather than the other way around. He is at once totally absorbing and terrifying in his complete distain for life.
The two main characters juxtapose one another superbly. Whilst Pearce appears to be dead inside, Pattinson’s sweet naivety and loyalty is endearing. He has misplaced hope in a world where there is no place for such luxuries. He plays the role perfectly and flexes acting muscles that have previously lain dormant in the less challenging roles he is known for, capturing the stunning simplicity of his character.
Through Rey, the audience gets an insight into a child of the decay, that has known nothing more than the world he lives in now and yet still has hope and faith perfectly encapsulated by his stating ‘There’s no harm God wants to see me come to’. The audience yearns for the two to develop a friendship and bond, for Rey’s sweetness to break down the hardened exterior of Eric. But it’s to Michôd’s credit that this never transpires as Eric never sees Rey as anything more than a means to an end.
The nearest the two get to ‘bonding’ is when Eric imparts on Rey his wisdom that ‘Your brother left you to die. Your God has abandoned you to me. If you don’t learn to fight your death is going to come really soon’- hardly a pep talk, but in a decaying society there is no place for sweetness and naivety this is ultimately advice that could save, or prolong, your life depending on which way you look at it.
The final star of the film is the landscape that is as unflinchingly harsh as the story itself. The cinematography is breathtaking, with the world that The Rover is set in being at once picturesque and deadly. For many of us that endure the hustle and bustle of big city life, there is almost something refreshingly peaceful and simple about the lives they live and the world they call home. In a recent press conference, we spoke with Pattinson who said he enjoyed working out in the desert and would spend his time looking out to the horizon and relish seeing nothing. In truth, The Rover depicts a simpler time that we all, at some point or another, wish we could return to.
What The Rover is, at its core, is a tale of survival and loneliness. Few films would have the audience so conflicted about its protagonist to the point where it drives them to wish for his death as a merciful act of finality. Whereas other films of the same ilk, such as The Road, explore a society that was beyond hope, Michôd has created a world that is clinging to the last semblance of normality by a fingertip that is gradually losing its hold.
Michôd has created in this film a terrifically stark view of society on the cusp of oblivion with two characters that are seemingly at odds with one another. The pace and intensity throughout are exceptional and never allows you to breathe as you don’t know what is around the corner for this unlikeliest of partnerships. If Michôd was nervous about his second outing it never shows and is as masterful, if not more so than Animal Kingdom and solidifies his place amongst Australia’s film elite.
The Rover is out from June 12!