Directed by: David Michôd.
Written by: David Michôd & Joel Edgerton.
Starring: Guy Pearce (Eric), Robert Pattinson (Rey), Scoot McNairy (Henry), Tawanda Manyimo (Caleb), David Field (Archie), Gillian Jones (Grandma), Susan Prior (Dorothy Peeples), Anthony Hayes (Sgt Rick Rickoffersen), Jan Palo (Gordon).
David Michod’s feature debut, Animal Kingdom (2010) was a great crime drama that elevated the genre to tragic, nearly Shakespeare like proportions. It was about a young man sucked into a life of crime by a femme fatale – the twist being that the femme fatale was not a sexy young woman manipulating the young man by using sex, but rather an older woman (Jacki Weaver) – offering the young man the family he never had. It was a great movie. His follow-up, The Rover, is merely very good. While Animal Kingdom elevated its genre, The Rover is “just” a pitch perfect example of its genre. It’s a dark, post-apocalyptic (economically at least) Western, about a man named Eric (Guy Pearce) who has his car stolen in the first scene, and spends the entire movie trying desperately to get it back – for reasons that only become clear in its poignant final shot. It doesn’t do anything truly revolutionary with the genre, but never takes a step wrong. It’s an expertly written, directed and acted genre film. There are worse things you can be.
When we first see Pearce’s Eric, he’s sweating alone in his car, before he slowly gets up and goes across the street to a bar – where he sits down and drinks water, never uttering a world to the others in the bar. Soon a trio of criminals – Henry (Scoot McNairy), Caleb (Tawanda Manyimo) and Archie (David Field) take over – driving away from a botched robbery at high speed in their pickup truck. They’ve left Henry’s brother Rey (Robert Pattinson) behind – and the argument this inspires causes the truck to flip over. The three get out quickly, and promptly steal Eric’s car and take off. Not one to let this go, Eric jumps into their truck (not destroyed, merely stuck) – and gives chase. Eventually, Eric will meet up with Rey – who isn’t dead like Henry thought – and he becomes his hostage. Then strangely something approaching his partner. He knows where Henry is going and wants to get back to him. Rey isn’t very bright – and never quite realizes (or at least seems to never quite realize) what Eric’s ultimate goal is.
The film was shot largely in the Australian outback, which doesn’t need much work to make it look like a sunburnt, barren Wasteland. Eric doesn’t talk much – but Rey hardly shuts up. Eric doesn’t tell Rey why he’s alone, why he wants his car back or any details about his past (I only know his name is Eric because the credits say it is – if his name is mentioned, I missed it – he even makes a point of not telling one woman his name repeatedly). Only gradually do pieces of his past come to light. He’s haunted by something he did 10 years ago, as the world was collapsing – and even more haunted by the fact that no one seems to give a shit what he did. He got away with something without even trying. He’s basically been a dead man walking ever since. Rey, who along with his brother Henry, are the only Americans in the movie – they came here to work “in the mines” – but turned to crime when that didn’t work out. He has the mentality of a child – although one capable of violence. In some ways his relationship with Henry and with Eric is not unlike the central relationship in Of Mice and Men – he needs someone to tell him what to do, and if Henry is not around, than Eric will do.
The movie is largely made up of individual, violent set pieces. The best happen early – as when Eric walks into a store to try and get information about his missing car, and then ends up in the house next door, ruled over by the vile Grandma (Gillian Jones – excellent). This sequence results in the film’s most shocking act of violence that kicks the films into a whole new gear. Once we realize what lines Eric is willing to cross, the whole movie becomes even darker than it was before.
Pearce is excellent in the movie – this may in fact be his best performance to date. He was the moral authority in Animal Kingdom – or at least he seemed like it for much of the runtime, until you realize how far he was willing to go. Here, we know what he’s willing to do, although do not know why for most of the movie. It’s a largely silent performance, but no less impressive because of it. Robert Pattinson isn’t quite at Pearce’s level in the film – you catch him trying a little too hard at times – but in his quieter moments, he’s quite effective. It’s not a great performance – but it may be the first time I’ve seen him in a movie and thought he is capable of being this good (he was perfectly cast in Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis – although that role required him to be grim and monotone throughout – so it wasn’t exactly an actor’s showcase). The rest of the cast is excellent in small roles that leave larger impressions.
I cannot think of anything really wrong with The Rover. It does precisely what it sets out to do – it’s brilliantly directed and acted, and well written. It kept me engaged from beginning to end. It never really becomes anything more than a pitch perfect genre film. That’s more than enough.