Dylan Abbott reviews The Rover, the latest offering from David Michod starring Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson
David Michod didn’t do himself any favours by releasing one of the most original and brutally captivating crime films of the last decade in 2010. Animal Kingdom was an uncompromisingly bleak portrayal of a crumbling crime family seen through the eyes of an unwitting younger member thrown into the chaos created his crooked uncles.
Michod’s debut demonstrated his penchant for the grit and grime of the criminal underworld and his ability to intricately weave a tragedy of Greek proportions.Unfortunately, it left him with the sticky dilemma of having to follow it with something worthy of its predecessor.
After four years Michod returns with The Rover. Set in a post-apocalyptic Australian outback, 10 years after “the collapse” – what collapsed? How did it collapse? Why did it collapse? – we’re introduced to Eric (Guy Pearce as mean and menacing as you’re ever likely to see him), a grubby, stubbly and not-so-bubbly guy who’s just had his car stolen by a band of low-lifers. Fortunately for our pissed-off protagonist, he surreptitiously stumbles across Rey (a bumbling and bloody Robert Pattinson, sporting an often unintelligible southern drawl), the younger, and clearly simpler, brother of one of the carjackers. With R-Pattz as his complicit hostage, Eric searches out those who wronged him: he wants to get back what is rightfully his and doesn’t mind killing some folk on the way.
It’s clear from the overly long opening scene, depicting Guy Pearce sitting in his car, staring into nothingness (a surprisingly frequent activity throughout the movie), that The Rover is in no rush to get into gear. There’s a heavy and pensive languor weighing down the majority of the movie, exemplified by Antony Partos’ beautifully haunting yet repetitively droning score, which drags you through the dust ridden, stark landscape from one frame to the next.
Intrigue is generated by the scent of rural, industrial mythology lurking somewhere within the baron scenery and the broken colloquial dialogue, in a very Cormac-McCarthian sense. No Country For Old Men and The Road clearly share tonal and thematic similarities to Michod’s picture. However, such films drew profundity from source material ripe with ideas and nuance, whereas The Rover seems, for the most part, to believe that imitation will in itself provide depth. Unfortunately, the film ends up often feeling more like an annoyingly sincere 4X4 commercial in which covering people in crap and putting a gun in their hands gives them a personality.
That said, there is something bizarrely mesmerizing and beautifully brooding about The Rover. And Guy Pearce is really rather good at being an angry bastard with baggage. Indeed, he’s so effective that you can’t help but want him to find those hoodlums who took his car – a Vauxhall and not, unfortunately, a Rover – and give them a piece of his mind. Even Pattinson conjures some emotional clout as an abandoned simpleton who just wants someone to talk to in a world where even that is quite the commodity.
There are momentary glimmers of interesting, philosophical musings – notably when Eric gets a little riled by a shadowy salesman who wants US, rather than Australian, dollars, to which Eric responds by shouting, “It’s only paper!” He does have a point. Then there’s the weird and incongruous scene in which Rey is singing along to Keri Hilson’s sugar-sweet “Pretty Girl Rock” alone in the dead of night. It challenges that Britney Spears sing-along in Spring Breakers for the most insane use of a pop song in avant-garde contemporary cinema. But these semi-satirical moments of relief come few and far between, like tiny oases in a vast, pretentious desert.
Ultimately, there’s a distinct shallowness to Michod’s latest piece. Too much effort was put into creating atmosphere and not enough on creating a compelling story. The result is an artistically credible yet trudging and arduous piece of film that takes itself just a little too seriously.