Before entering David Michôd's The Rover there are two extremely tantalising scenes; one is the inter-title is presented on the screen; "Australia, Ten Years after the Collapse." And the following moments Guy Pearce's dirty, unnamed hound of a character walks into a makeshift bar on a dusty pitstop of a town. Drowning in deafening techno music, Michôd profiles Pearce with the camera in the foreground and positions the bar window in his background. Mere seconds after he takes up his stool a car silently tumbles past in balletic slow motion, without our silent grubby traveller batting an eyelid. What follows is an elemental study on morality and existence faced with absence of civilisation.
When an anonymous traveller (Pearce) has his car stolen by a team of robbers (including Scoot McNairy and David Field) after they have an accident in their getaway car, he hunts them down. When they meet he demands his car back and they knock him unconscious. When he awakens he gathers weapons and fuel to continue the pursuit. Along the way he discovers Henry's (McNairy) brother Rey (Robert Pattinson) and uses him to reveal their location.
Michôd and Joel Edgerton's story strips back all notions of complexity for the characters motivations. Pearce's man with no name essentially just wants his car back, when Rey (Pattinson) enters the frame — it's getting to his brother Henry. However informing the entire fabric of this quest are a litany of questions surrounding the aforementioned collapse and how the world returned to frontier living. Michôd then crafts the appropriate reptilian survivors to populate this new era. The harsh and bleak Australian outback looks splendid. Michôd and cinematographer Natasha Braier do have some aesthetic influences, like when Pearce is hurtling down the road in a truck after the robbers who've stolen his car, the sweeping camera moves recall Mad Max. However, for the most part Michôd's direction is motivated by maximising tension. Slow creeps through dark hallways, that oppressive push toward closed doors that seem to vibrate in the anticipation of being opened, and finally surprising you with the lack of care for life, and therefore the constant anxiety that death was on its way. It's also abundantly clear that Michôd is able to craft incredible performances from his players.
Pattinson is nothing short of unbelievable. Forget anything that you've ever seen him in before, this is a towering, career defining performance. Like Leo DiCaprio in What's Eating Gilbert Grape, Ryan Gosling's Half Nelson or Al Pacino's Dog Day Afternoon - this is the one that sees the young actor nurtured to his full potential. Every single stammering unenunciated southern turn of phrase disguises the erudite Brit made famous by being the prettiest, sparkliest vampire ever. Watching his impressionable nature absorb the bleak philosophy of our man with no name (Pearce) creates a tragic Stockholm syndrome, which also affects his companion.
Pearce is an actor that doesn't receive the correct amount of feverish adoration. He retreats completely into this broken man, devastated by the degradation of any kind of justice. His clenched jaw and unforgiving flippancy when it comes to killing rarely reveals anything of the man who lived before. However during some amazing isolated scenes, you begin seeing the creases in his armour shell. In a picturesque front room of a heinous drug den with Gillian Jones' Nanna, a pimp and drug dealer, she immediately starts to probe the seams of this fierce exterior. You can almost see the through-line between Sgt. Nathan Leckie, Pearce's character from Animal Kingdom, and our unnamed man in The Rover. They're both frighteningly aware of what the world has become and know how to survive the predators in their ecosystem.
McNairy is an ideal character actor. He's just a terrifically authentic and sincere performer no matter the size of the role. Henry (as Rey's brother) requires a protectiveness but also a pragmatism that informs everything that he does. His character Henry experiences almost all the stages of grief before our eyes.
The Rover shows humanity exposed to the withdrawal of civilisation. Desolation accomplished.
[rating=4] and a half
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: David Michôd Written by: David Michôd (from a story by Michôd and Joel Edgerton) Starring: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy, David Field, Gillian Jones, Anthony Hayes