The road worrier – The Rover review (Sydney Film Festival)

The Rover

By Simon Miraudo
June 10, 2014

The Rover is a hugely stressful tone poem in which on-screen characters are constantly being shot and killed by off-screen characters. That precise trick made for a startling capper to David Michôd‘s breakout hit Animal Kingdom, and he trots it out again several times in his theatrical follow-up. It’s very successful, in that it’s regularly unpleasant and traumatic. Not for the faint of heart – or maybe even the heart-having – The Rover at least makes for a better Cormac McCarthy movie than The Counselor did.

Conceived by Michôd and Joel Edgerton, The Rover tells of a haunted, determined man (Guy Pearce doing an incredible Hugo Weaving) on the hunt for the three criminals who stole his car. The man, a former farmer, is called Eric in the credits, but names are a luxury where he’s living. Now, before acid memories of Ashton Kutcher and Seann William Scott embarking on a similar mission come storming back, it’s worth noting this picture takes place ten years after “the collapse,” with Australia – and, we suppose, the rest of the world – now an arid dystopia in which morality is a convenience people can no longer afford. There’s no explanation necessary for Eric’s ceaseless quest to reclaim his vehicle (even if we’re given one in the final shot). Frankly, what else is there to do?

The Rover

Maybe the tale would have better suited a short film; they are, after all, what Michôd’s Blue-Tongue production company primarily excels at. The parable’s feature length winds up being justified by Robert Pattinson of all people. As an actor whose resting expression has always been to look totally nauseated, he does great work as Rey, the dim-witted sibling of the dude (Scoot McNairy) who made off with Eric’s car in the first place. Left to die with a bullet wound from an unexplained prior skirmish, Eric helps Rey to heal so that he may then put a gun in his face and insist he take him to his brother. The flick then evolves into a twisted surrogate father-son tale, with Pearce’s rover taking Pattinson’s injured bird under his wing and instructing him on how to execute indiscriminately. But Rey finds it harder to shed his humanity than Eric seems to have done. Even harder is to shrug off his inexplicable music taste; we get a glimpse of him singing along to Keri Hilson’s ‘Pretty Girl Rock’ at one point, and it’s a bizarre, idiosyncratic moment the likes of which separate The Rover from other drab, nihilistic post-westerns.

Animal Kingdom DP Adam Arkapow has moved on to big things, however, incoming cinematographer Natasha Braier makes for a fine replacement, making the already alien outback seem especially foreign here. It’s a far cry from the chaotic urban sprawl of Animal Kingdom, in which characters crossed lines and met massive consequences. In The Rover, where the concept of policing such crimes is practically quaint, our hero is a criminal awaiting condemnation, and never getting it. What more we’re meant to take away from all this is not readily apparent. Rey comments that stories don’t always need to mean something; sometimes you tell them because they’re stuck in your head. The Rover is sticking in mine.

4/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s archive of reviews.

The Rover arrives in Australian cinemas June 12, 2014.

One Response to “The road worrier – The Rover review (Sydney Film Festival)”

  1. Hello Simon! What a great review.

    I am an indie filmmaker based in Los Angeles and I would love to show you some of my work for your consideration to write reviews about it.

    If you are interested, email me to kams_sun@hotmail.com

    Thanks!!

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