Cinematic Thoughts for Cinematic Minds
2014/ Australia, USA
Director: David Michôd
Starring: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy, David Field
The opening twenty minutes of writer-director David Michôd’s sophomore effort, The Rover, are perhaps the most gripping and taut twenty minutes of any film of 2014 so far. Set in a barren dystopian future, “10 years after the collapse”, a weary and dishevelled Guy Pearce (Eric) sits inside a makeshift bar on a desolate outback road. Meanwhile, a 4×4 carrying three anxious criminals fleeing a botched heist approaches. Control of their vehicle is lost causing the vehicle to overturn just outside of the bar; the criminals flee their temporarily immobilized 4×4 and make off with Eric’s car. Eric manages to get the 4×4 moving again and a short Duel-like chase ensues.
The criminals eventually evade Eric – and even though he has essentially traded his vehicle for another – he is determined to retrieve his own car. (Does his car have some significance, or is it a pride thing, a sense of dignity perhaps? At the moment, this is unknown). Later, he coincidentally encounters a wounded brother of the criminals who was left at the scene of the heist and recognizes the vehicle Eric is driving. Eric then forcibly coerces the brother (Rey) to take him to his brother’s residence to collect his car.
The film’s opening is truly captivating; flashes of brutal and sometimes unprovoked violence are shocking and Eric appears to be at once a mysterious antihero as well as a ruthless killer with nothing to lose. In the violent world that the film has thus far rendered, maybe staying alive longer than the next person you come across is all that matters. After the storming introduction to The Rover, the tension gradually levels off and never quite reaches those aforementioned heights. What emerges however is a cynical road/buddy movie for which the most part enthrals but ultimately frustrates. If only the film was somehow back-to-front…
Guy Pearce’s taciturn performance as Eric creates a character that thankfully anchors the film throughout; he seems to have lost everything and has seen his world crumble, but would not stop at progressing towards his goal, no matter the cost or how meagre the rewards maybe. Robert Pattinson is equally watchable as Rey, a twitchy and slow-minded character whose naïvely wide-eyed expression spells a person who cannot fully comprehend what sort of world he is living in but is aware enough to have a sense of respectability. The two steadily strike an engaging father-son-like bond; Eric dresses Rey’s wounds and we learn that Rey grew up on a farm, whereas Eric was once a farmer himself. Regardless, there is still a hazardous mission that binds them – lurking at the back of the mind – and it is surely destined for nothing but pain and misfortune.
The reasons for the “collapse” are never explicitly described, nor is it stated why many Americans are living in the outback. However, the only currency that is worth anything is US dollars which signals an economic crisis in this corner of the world – but apart from that – we get nothing. This is probably apt, as the characters of this world would likely be long passed caring about the past at this point – civilization as we know it is merely a campfire story, as one scene demonstrates. Instead of answers, The Rover simply shows us a world that we would not want to be a part of – where dead bodies can be seen from a distance to be lynched from telegraph poles, where domesticated dogs are eaten out of desperation and where every scene seems to be buzzing with flies that are hovering over some off-screen putrefaction. The parched and unpopulated landscapes lead towards blank horizons of seemingly eternal nothingness, a backdrop that reflects the overall nihilism of the film, but also foreshadows a slightly empty ending.
As hinted at previously, the film is unfortunately dotted with a few problems. Firstly, why should Eric trust Rey so much? Yes, Eric is somewhat suicidal and Rey is simple-minded and was left for dead by his brother, but one can’t help but thinking that Eric has become a little too trusting of Rey, especially during a final confrontation. Secondly, certain scenes only work to stall the proceedings. For example, one in which Eric is temporarily apprehended whilst Rey was absent simply allows for a large segment of his backstory be told before Rey swiftly rescues him from an army compound. The exposition could have perhaps been delivered another way, but the narrative quickly resumes thereafter. Thirdly, the ending does not appear to be worth that excursion that led to it. The final moment may actually be suggesting hopefulness as humanity has not yet forgot to mourn, but it also indicates that the already thin narrative was waning throughout.
Although, The Rover is not as accomplished as Michôd’s debut (Animal Kingdom, which also featured Guy Pearce) it remains a very watchable, if slightly directionless thriller that works as a sort of grounded version of the Mad Max films. The aforementioned final scene may not be particularly satisfying after the 90+ minutes which proceed it, but perhaps satisfaction is too hard a feeling to achieve when the world has fallen to ruin.