Directed by: David Michod
Starring: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, and Scoot McNairy
The Plot: Red Rover, Red Rover send Edward Cullen on over… In the near future, after the crash of most of the world’s financial systems, a solitary figure (Pearce) roams the Australian Outback in his beat-to-hell car. With nothing to do, and nowhere to go, his life is suddenly given new purpose when an armed group of thugs (McNairy) steals his wheels after a robbery in which one of their own (Pattinson) was shot and left for dead. Now on a mission to retrieve his automobile this “Rover” takes custody of the wounded criminal, and offers him a simple choice: Lead me to your people, or die, racked in terrible pain, from your wounds. Such is the bitter kiss of dilemma in this new – but not so different than the one we know right now – Australian Outback.
The Film: There are many hells on this Earth, but apparently none more barren and infernal than the post-financial-collapse Australian Outback. All we need do is look at the state of Guy Pearce’s hair in David Michod’s moody dystopia piece, The Rover, to understand the long, crashing fall society has taken down the ugly tree.
It seems that in this terrible future even the barbers have resorted to barbarism.
Like George Miller’s original Mad Max, there is something of a society and law in this part of the world, but it’s callous, outgunned, and irreparably exhausted. Every structure is covered in rust, dust – more dust – and the occasional blanket of human blood. Every person with a minor inclination toward grooming – meaning most of the female population – left town after the water got shut off. Hell, it even appears like the dingoes, funnel-web spiders, and eastern brown snakes, beat feet to territory more festive.
The world of The Rover is the inoperably bleak world of sweaty, filthy, no-good-sons-a-bitches. Guy Pearce’s Eric being the champion of the cause. Whatever patience, morality, and humor this character had he cashed in a long time ago for a beater car, an uneven haircut, and a pit-stained dress shirt. Once his car is stolen there is literally nothing left for Eric to lose in this world. He tells Robert Pattinson’s Rey: “Look what God did for you. He put a bullet in you and abandoned you to me…” Eric understands that he’s bad company. He also understands that he exists in a world of colossal impropriety, with little room for luxuries like notions of faith and fate – or even life really.
Super-inflation has driven up the prices of gasoline, of clean drinking water, of bullets of every caliber – all paid for in American dollars – meanwhile the price of human life has crashed to an all time low. There are occasional, odd moments in The Rover where Guy Pearce allows a few molecules of humanity to dimple through the surface of his iron veneer, but they exist only as vapor in a furnace. By the time we may have detected the appearance of an emotion it has already evaporated into The Rover’s singular, hostile climate.
Eric’s tasked with keeping Rey – wounded in a gun battle before the story’s opening – alive long enough to track down Rey’s brother’s criminal gang, so he can end their collective natural lives, as well as get his car back. After last year’s laudable turn in Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, and this achingly good performance in The Rover, it’s time to acquit Robert Pattinson of his criminal Twilight history and accept the lad for the perfectly talented actor he is. In light of how blighted The Rover is as a film experience, (Michod’s movie makes Ridley Scott’s The Counselor look heartwarming by comparison) Pattinson is one of the few characters in the film we can feel something resembling compassion toward.
And I say that reminded that his character Rey is responsible for the murder of a kid in this film.
Abandoned by his brother and left to die in the street, Rey is an orphaned man-child left to follow the direction of any shepherd – whether it be kin or killer. Not that there is much direction in the world of The Rover. Lets face it… if Guy Pearce’s car hadn’t gotten heisted at the beginning of the film we wouldn’t have much of a movie here. We barely do as is. Instead this is a mood piece built of scenes – some of them terrific, as is the scene where Gillian Jones’s Grandmother wins a staring contest with Eric’s gun – with little in the way of scenery. The Rover’s biggest success is also what most viewers would consider a major waste of theater time. It is a concentration not in story or in world-building – as George Miller’s terrific Mad Max movies do so well – but in nihilism so pure and panoptic not even the comfort of despair exists inside its expanse.
It is a film of shells leading the only existence offered to them – the hollow kind.
There is something in the stolen car that Eric needs to recover, (it ain’t called The Rover for nothin) but when we discover what it is it’s less a revelation than it is further proof that in this sweltering, scab-encrusted, flea-pit of a future a man needs very little to wake up, shake the dust off himself, reach for the nearest firearm, and go on a rampage.
The Verdict: An A24 film is like good absinthe – bitter, strong, and hypnotic. The Rover isn’t the strongest film in the A24 collective – it’s certainly the most bitter. Though I’ve been admittedly twitterpated with the studio’s productions for the last year, I can also readily admit that I’ve never left one of their movies completely knowing what I thought of it. Which, in this haphazardous line of work, isn’t always necessarily a bad thing. The best movies give your brain something to chew on. Though I chewed on The Rover it never matured past my initial experience with the film. This is a dusty, dreary movie.