3.5 stars
Writer/director David Michôd, who brought us the chillingly excellent Animal Kingdom, proves once again that he is a master of tension in The Rover, his second film. I frequently found I was holding my breath as situation after situation offered variable outcomes and all of them were bad, very bad. The setting is outback Australia somewhere in the near future, 10 years after “the collapse”. Like the unspecified event in Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel The Road, with which Michôd’s script has much in common, what “the collapse” is, is never explained, but we don’t really need to know because we can tell it sure wasn’t good. Also in keeping with that Pulitzer Prize-winning book, this brave new world has gone feral, really feral. What law and order remains is administered by the armed forces and is often dispensed with ‘extreme prejudice’.

When we first meet Eric (Guy Pearce – the Jack Irish telemovie trilogy), he has stopped for a glass of water in a one-horse town in a barren landscape. As he sips his presumably precious H2O, a trio of bumbling bandits steals his car, which makes Eric very unhappy and he doesn’t look like the kind of guy you’d want to upset. To the thieves’ amazement, he sets off in pursuit in their abandoned vehicle and confronts them, even though they are heavily armed and he is not. When asked why, he merely states that he wants his car back. Needless to say, this is not going to happen but Eric doesn’t give up easily… there’s something about that car. When, further down the road, he meets Rey (Robert Pattinson – Bel Ami), the brother of one of the crooks, he sees an opportunity to get his prized possession back and the chase starts in earnest.

Rey is a simple soul, possibly with a roo or two loose in the top paddock, who’s always been looked after by his older brother (Scoot McNairy – 12 Years a Slave) and his meeting with Eric appears to be one of the first times he’s had to fend for himself. Pattinson does an excellent job of conveying Rey’s larvae-like state as he emerges from his cocoon and, with Eric’s cold prompting, starts to see the world as it really is for the first time. It’s Pattinson’s best performance to date and shows how far he has come since the Twilight days. Pearce is brilliant as the enigmatic Eric. The demons Eric’s fleeing are etched on his face and the spare script shows just how much an actor of Pearce’s ability can do with very little.

The eerie score by Antony Partos beautifully captures the strangeness of the environment and the people in it. It seems no one can be trusted in these end times and the music reflects this unsettled condition extremely well. It’s as disturbing as Mica Levi’s soundscape in the recent Scarlett Johansson vehicle Under the Skin. Equally disturbing is the ‘look’ of the film - Australia hasn’t looked this bleak since Brian West shot Wake in Fright, although perhaps Benoît Delhomme’s vision was close in The Proposition. What these two cinematographers and the DOP of The Rover, Natasha Braier (Chinese Puzzle), have in common is that they’re not Australian and, hence, like Rey looking at the world anew, they bring fresh sets of eyes to these films. And what they see is not what we, who are familiar with the landscape, see, and it’s scary. I was reminded of that immortal line from Gallipoli when Mel and Mark tell the swaggie that they are off to war to keep the Germans from taking over Australia. Looking around the flat, featureless desert landscape he bitterly declares, “They’re welcome to it!”

It’s very difficult for a sophomore filmmaker to live up to a highly successful first film but, while The Rover won’t achieve the success of Animal Kingdom, it’s got to be said that it’s a damn fine effort. Michôd’s script, from a story co-written by him and Joel Edgerton, will be a bit too enigmatic for many viewers and his vision a bit too gloomy. Be that as it may, there’s a lot to like about this movie. In fact, it could be the perfect film for these dark times in a changing Australia. By invoking the concept of “the collapse”, The Rover could turn out be prescient.


Previewed at Roadshow Theaterette, Sydney, on 3 June 2014

Guy Pearce
Robert Pattinson
Scoot McNairy
David Field

David Mîchod

David Mîchod
Joel Edgerton



103 minutes

June 12, 2014
The Rover (2014) on IMDb
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