Director: David Michôd
Starring: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy
Running Time: 102 mins
Synopsis: 10 years after a global economic collapse, a hardened loner pursues the men who stole his only possession, his car. Along the way, he captures one of the thieves’ brother, and the duo form an uneasy bond during the dangerous journey.
A drifter has his car stolen by a trio of robbers, bruised and bloody from a botched crime scene. The owner gives chase, but this is no ordinary revenge thriller. We are in a sweltering Outback of the near future, ravaged by social collapse and as the thieves are about to learn, nothing will halt the relentless pursuit of THE ROVER. Writer and director David Michôd’s latest offering is an exhausting but often powerful journey into a landscape without boundaries or rules.
Though the film’s central relationship concerns a middle-aged burnout clinging to sanity and a naive teenager trying to find meaning in a pointless world, there’s one presence that dominates; Eric, played by Guy Pearce. With permanent ferocity lining his thin face and hair like an exhumed corpse, the character seizes the lens like a dog on a mailman and won’t let go. The actor perfectly captures the visceral fragility of a man who lost track of himself years back and THE ROVER will do for Pearce what SEXY BEAST did for Sir Ben Kingsley. You may not enjoy Eric’s company but you certainly won’t take your eyes off him.
Robert Pattinson soon arrives sporting a buzz cut and terrible teeth. He successfully stakes the image of a chiselled vampire in this sun-bleached nightmare, putting a lot into his performance. Unfortunately for me his character Rey is the weak link. Coming across like a variation on Jesse from Breaking Bad with a smattering of FORREST GUMP, the uneasy bonding between the two men feels contrived. Much stronger is how the alliance ends up, with each becoming the motivating force for the other. Pearce replaces God in Pattinson’s sphere, before the child steers the increasingly weary adult toward a bullet-strewn closing sequence. Dependence grows and festers between the pair and the actors square up reasonably well. It’s Pearce’s film but Pattinson does well to register.
With its parched setting and slow burning air of hopelessness, the movie is partly intended as a modern Western. Though the filmmakers probably wouldn’t appreciate it there’s also a dash of MAD MAX, albeit without the camp costumes and histrionics. I can’t work out if the film was supposed to contain humour – it says something that the only laugh came from a single audience member over the death of a carny. Despite a couple of obvious reference points Michôd ploughs his own furrow with a drab palette of dirty creams and sickly greens. The searing setting is crucial and Michôd has an eye for its twisted trunks and pitiless vistas. Add to that the somewhat sparse nature of the costumes (typified by Pearce’s shirt, shorts and sneakers combination) and you have a ripe depiction of lawless males. A couple of female characters crop up, and Michôd wisely opts for contrast with an anxious nurse (Susan Prior) and a creepy Earth Mother (Gillian Jones).
It’s worth noting that the script fails to specify the calamity mentioned in the opening title and so this ambiguity works well in relation to Eric, whose layers are gradually stripped away to reveal the conflicted individual grieving for the past within. At one point Pearce is captured and questioned by the military, who are sending people to Sydney for financial gain. What they’re being paid for and why is never revealed, which is typical of the story’s murky nature. Antony Partos’ score reflects the scenario with a succession of repetitive rhythms that range from old world to electronic. The composer creates the impression of a long car journey with the instruments being picked up along the way. Australia is the backdrop, but many cultures are represented as the dispossessed flock to the mines for employment. As with BLADE RUNNER, Asian imagery looms large, from the symbols on the side of a passing train to the theme of the bar Pearce holes up in.
The disappointment here is that the different elements don’t always gel and thus it becomes a one man show, but the end result immerses you in a world that remains after the credits have rolled. Startling, cruel and saturated with impending violence, THE ROVER will leave you thirsty, frightened and above all strangely riveted.
[usr=3] THE ROVER is released in UK cinemas August 15th