2014 | David Michôd
Drawing obvious yet unrealistic comparisons to Mad Max, director David Michôd’s post-apocalyptic film about a man and his car is really all the two films have in common. Set in the not-too-distant future, shortly after a global financial collapse, Eric (Guy Pearce) has his car stolen by a gang shortly after a robbery gone wrong. While chasing them down he meets Reynolds (aka Rey, played by Robert Pattinson) who becomes his half-unwilling accomplice in revenge.
Unlike George Miller’s dystopian car flick, The Rover is as much about the journey of the two men as it is anything else. Eric is a violent former soldier who lost his family and witnessed the world fall apart after the apparently catastrophic collapse. Rey is the slow younger brother of Henry (Scoot McNairy), an almost unwitting passenger in his brother’s misdeeds, with an unwavering faith that his brother cares about him, despite his leaving him on the side of the road to die, a point made painfully clear to Rey by a powerful Guy Pearce monologue.
Michôd’s debut feature, 2010’s Animal Kingdom, was a brutal examination of family, specifically the strength of family under fire. His follow-up is embedded with the same themes of family and humanity. Eric lost his humanity long ago, which led to the loss of his family. Rey discovers his own personal strength and humanity, at the sacrifice of family. While the film doesn’t rest its laurels on the performances of its two key men, the viscera of performance is the film’s biggest strength. Both men operate from feeling, feelings which need no explanation. Guy Pearce is visibly worn, with leathery skin, patchy hair and an air of impunity, like a rodent digging through garbage. Robert Pattinson is a revelation, as he heartbreakingly warms to Eric, seemingly the only person, aside his brother Henry, who hasn’t belittled, mocked and dismissed him. As the two men grow closer, this desolate, inhumane “wild west” starts to become a little more human and all the more devastating.
Filmed in “outback Australia” (specifically north-eastern South Australia), the most cinematically famous area in the country, the film looks and feels bleak. Undersaturated and over-exposed, cinematographer Natasha Braier, evokes a widescreen inhospitable landscape of dirt, muck and emptiness, with the rank smell of death, decay and well-used armpits. It is uncomfortable, yet compelling viewing as Antony Partos’ soundtrack screeches and hums, but also occasionally blares pop music as Eric and Rey make their way through this brutal and unforgiving world.
The film threatens to meander towards the latter part of its 103-minute runtime, but through the visuals of military police riding Chinese-marked mining trains and the almost inexplicable (yet heartbreaking) inclusion of Keri Hilson’s Pretty Girl Rock, David Michôd entrenches himself as one of the most audacious, exciting filmmakers in the world. While it may not be as tautly executed as Animal Kingdom, it is a more than worthy follow-up which deserves no direct comparison to its predecessor, unless in discussions about is Michôd’s examination of family, love and humanity.