THE ROVER (2014)
Director: David Michôd
Cast: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy, David Field, Anthony Hayes, Gillian Jones, Susan Prior
MPAA Rating: (for language and some bloody violence)
Running Time: 1:42
Release Date: 6/13/14 (limited); 6/20/14 (wider)
Review by Mark Dujsik | June 20, 2014
An opening title tells us very little: "10 years after the Collapse." Our minds race but only briefly. What was the nature of this Collapse? Was it the economy? How did it come about? Did the oil finally run out, or were people playing games with subprime mortgages again? Are we looking at something local—in this case, Australia—or global? There are plenty of questions about the general setup and, ultimately, a lot of specific details of The Rover. At a certain point, we also come to realize that there really is only one answer to all of them: humanity.
We create such systems as a way to maintain some semblance of order, and we're always surprised when those systems fail because humanity is fallible. The predatory instinct of humanity shows itself as greed, bringing chaos out of order, and suddenly, in some dystopian hellscape, the only thing people are left with are those instincts, which turn their attention to mere survival. We know the drill of these stories.
Here, the order has disappeared—seemingly for good. The passage of 10 years sort of cements that belief for us and especially for the characters who populate this desolate, unforgiving terrain of the Australian Outback. Perhaps because of the locale, the people here have grown accustomed to a certain lack of mercy. In the decade since the Collapse, they have perfected that concept.
Writer/director David Michôd's film is a dive into a pit of despair. Despair is a law here, like gravity. It keeps pulling these characters further and further down, and along the way, they get a tour of the worst humanity has to offer itself. There are no heroes, but there are plenty of villains. Maybe, though, they aren't either of those simplistic designations, because they really have no choice in the matter. Take a look at what's around them: desert and famine and drought and a long road that takes them from one place of misery to another and another and another.
If the film sounds hopeless, it is. Hope died out long ago with the Collapse—whatever it was and however it happened. We're used to stories of an apocalyptic future showing us such desperate and bleak actions and things, but Michôd's is especially dedicated to a kind of tunnel vision of the desperate and the bleak.
Another description for all of this comes to mind: repetitive. There comes a point here where we get the point, and it starts to feel that the only note Michôd is interested in playing is the nonstop reminders of how terrible this world is. That may be the case, but there's at least a sort of subtle vibrato to the note. It reverberates.
The story is simple. In this wasteland of the future, there is man named Eric (Guy Pearce). His car is stolen by men during their escape from a robbery. There's a shot of the robbers' car flipping through a window as an oblivious Eric goes about his business that pretty much sums up his character: He doesn't notice or care about any chaos unless it has a direct impact on him.
These men, led by Henry (Scoot McNairy), quickly find themselves in need of another form of transportation, so they steal Eric's car. Eric gets their original getaway car running again and spends the rest of the film chasing after them to retrieve his car.
It seems like a strange priority in the context of everything around him, but Pearce's performance is so impenetrable in terms of not letting on to whatever his motivation is that we must accept he is compelled forward by impulse. Everything Eric does here is a mix of smart planning and deadly instinct. He knows he needs a gun, so he starts inquiring around a town. When the man ready to sell him the gun asks for more money than Eric has, he simply takes the weapon in an act of spontaneous force. While at the isolated ranch of a doctor (Susan Prior), note the way he doesn't completely let on to the trouble he knows is approaching, letting someone go out as bait to give him enough time to prepare.
In the same town, he discovers Rey (Robert Pattinson), the slow-witted brother of the leader of the thieves, who left him for dead at the site of the robbery. Rey is the relative innocent here. He's the Lennie to Eric's George, and the question is how much this nihilistic loner will corrupt one who doesn't know any better. If their relationship feels hollow and without much tension, a lot of that comes from Pattinson, who adopts an accent that sounds like it comes from the American South and renders a good chunk of his lines incoherent. Fortunately, Michôd's screenplay cares far less about words, which usually repeat the theme of necessary brutality in a cruel world, than it does actions.
The final sequence of The Rover, which is certain to leave many in a state of befuddlement, is an understated moment of great irony. We are left with a man who is, in his own and very small way, trying to restore some sense of order (His pursuit of and sense of entitlement for his car is from a bygone era when laws protecting private property were something) and, moreover, decency (what's in the car and what his plans for it are) to a world that has no use for such pursuits. That he left such a high body count is the price. Humanity's balance sheet is still in the red.
Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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