The Rover (2014)

Posted by Joel Copling on June 26, 2014

I'm not even sure how to review "The Rover." Do I give it four stars for the downright intimidating filmmaking prowess showcased by director David Michod (who also wrote the screenplay)? Do I give it zero stars for the abjectly pointless events of the narrative, which lead from the remnants of a Mexican stand-off (or so it seems) to a facile shootout in the early hours of the morning? Do I give it two stars for stranding two brilliant co-lead performances in a movie that is distinctly unworthy of them? The Irrelevant Rating in Stars system (as my colleague in Chicago Mark Dujsik so colorfully emblazoned it recently) strikes again, for three stars seems both frivolous to anything but classification and entirely accurate to the overall effect of being partly entranced and partly defeated by Michod's unsparing, futuristic vision.

The first of the great performances comes from Guy Pearce, that master of stoicism. He plays Eric, a wanderer who wanders the futuristic Australia in which our film is set. His car is stolen by three criminals (Scoot McNairy is the leader, Henry, and Tawanda Mayimbo and David Field play the ones accompanying him) when they crash their own. Eric manages to free their vehicle and follows them to get his own back, but the job is more difficult than it seems. They're armed, and they refuse to give it back. As for Eric, we the audience understand his motivation: In a world ravaged by "the Collapse" (We're never sure what this is or how it happened), his car is his everything.

The second of the great performances--and perhaps the better one, though comparisons are cheap--comes courtesy of Robert Pattinson, who plays Rey. He's Henry's half-wit brother, far from an idiot savant but also not quite an idiot. He has his own reasons for keeping quiet when Eric questions him about his brother's whereabouts. Rey was left behind in that aftermath of that Mexican stand-off, thought dead by Henry and his goons. And, indeed, he's grievously injured (possibly a gunshot to the left of his abdomen). Pattinson is magnetic in his approach to this loose cannon of a character, adopting a seamless Southern American accent and a nervy physicality.

It all leads to a curious third act that pits one sort of immorality against another in a different sort of stand-off. Like a Cormac McCarthy novel (In fact, shades of 2009's infinitely superior masterpiece "The Road" are all over Michod's script), lines of morality seem drawn with invisible pens. Morality, after all, may just be a long-ago prospect, though the way the film deals with this is so on-the-nose it's hard to believe. In pure "style over substance" fashion, however, it's about how it's about this decaying society, and Michod's delectably long takes, Natasha Braier's scabby, gritty cinematography, and Anthony Partos' otherworldly score combine to create an experience as frustrating as it is unshakable.

Film Information

Guy Pearce (Eric), Robert Pattinson (Rey), Scoot McNairy (Henry), Tawanda Manyimo (Caleb), David Field (Archie), Anthony Hayes (Sgt. Rick Rickoffersen), Gillian Jones (Grandma), Susan Prior (Dorothy Peeples).

Directed and written by David Michod.

Rated R (language, bloody violence).

103 minutes.

Released in select cities on June 13, 2014.