Well, if he doesn’t, then he must be very bored. That said, there doesn’t seem to be much to do in Australia ten years after “the collapse”. Everyone in The Rover (2014) from writer-director David Michôd, just seems to survive (until they don’t). There’s money–America’s monetary supremacy survives the collapse, fear not–but nothing to spend it on out there in the boonies where the film takes place. So, when a man (Guy Pearce) gets his car stolen by some bank robbers, he goes after them. He wants his car back. Then, when he loses track of these robbers, fate brings Rey (Robert Pattinson), brother of one of the thieves, into our hero’s hands. I say hero. When he shoots the fellow selling him a gun, even the term “protagonist” loses its aptitude. Lesson #1: Don’t sell someone a gun with ammunition inside it.
It’s a bleak and terrible world and there is a thin, blue veneer that allows it to seem anything else. What makes us safe and secure–and it is the central theme of this film–is that there are consequences for our actions. Is there anything more dreadful in a film or in life than the image of a murder where the culprit walks away without fear or anxiety? When there are no consequences, then we are at the whim of the primal instincts of others and ourselves. There is no future for anyone we meet in this film. There are no ambitions beyond attaining money. The only ones who seem to want anything else is a self-styled “doctor” and the Rover. [IMDb calls him “Eric”, but I don’t recall him ever giving a name.]
Despite this bleakness, the film has a forward momentum that keeps utter dejection at bay. Dude has to get his car, after all, and hurdles need overcoming to get that car. There is also a slow-forming connection between the Rover and Rey. The Rover begins as a completely fearless and pitiless animal, but bits of feeling and remorse eventually materialize. He almost never answers anyone’s questions which is one of his most annoying traits along with being completely unaware of the resources around him that might make his life easier. These guys leave at least two high-powered assault rifles behind. What is that? In any case, this isn’t The Road (2009), which some find to be so nihilistic as to be unwatchable. It isn’t so detached that there’s nothing to care about. Somehow, despite the near-constant fear that he’s going to shoot the mentally deficient Rey in the head for no reason, I want to see where these guys end up.
The cinematography (Natasha Braier) was not concerned with beauty. The harsh beauty of the outback does show up in sunrises and sunsets, but most of the film takes place in dingy collections of trailers or shacks. Sweaty, grimy faces and tattered clothes fill the frame along with the most annoyingly bad haircut onscreen since The Terminator (1984) (post-burning). This has the appearance of a detached, independent film. Those can either take long wide shots with characters standing in front of large vistas or long close-up shots of deep-thinking characters about to do something dreadful. The Rover is in the latter category and effective in its choice. The music from Antony Partos is also typical of this style with a fair bit of low synth noise and repeating cycles. The pretty tune from the trailer–and, if you’re going to see this movie, don’t watch the trailer–did not, to my memory, make an appearance. Some weird cotton candy pop song comes out of nowhere, but otherwise it’s just ethereal.
It’s probably the best film I’ve seen this year, but I’d be surprised if it stays that way. Like Michôd’s debut feature, Animal Kingdom (2010) (review), it’s a great movie that isn’t exceptional enough to be a favorite. The content is great, but the visual language isn’t pretty enough for me.
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