Monday, 18 August 2014

Film Review: The Rover (2014)

Director: David Michôd
Screenplay: David Michôd
Stars: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy

The title card tells us we’re in ‘Australia, 10 years after the collapse’. Guy Pearce’s Eric sits in his car, a nondescript BMW, as the wind outside howls through the open desert landscape. The world outside the car is desolate, dry, and dust clings to the window like a reminder that it will never go away. This, we will learn, is Eric’s sanctuary and safe place and there aren’t many of them.

When Eric leaves his car and gets a drink, another car loses control, crashes, and is stuck. The three men inside have guns, one is bleeding, and they need a car to keep going wherever it is they are going, or get further away from where they have been. Director David Michôd makes the outback look so harsh, scorching hot and unforgiving that we wonder if there is even a place worth going to out here.

What follows is a simple plot in which Eric, with the help of Ray (Robert Pattinson), the ‘half wit’ brother of one of the men who took Eric’s car and left Ray for dead, will stop at nothing to get his car back. The plot and story are not what makes Michôd’s The Rover a stunning film, but rather the film’s ability to keep us hooked on such a simple premise; what strikes you most about the film is that unrelenting bleakness of the world we are placed in and how violence is part of the nature of man, unrelentingly so. The film does this exceedingly well where the post-apocalyptic setting is not a fantasy or heightened reality but aggressively real and shot using the actual landscapes rather than a blue screen background. Buildings which seem uninhabited are actually ‘stores’ where transactions for cash still take place even if US dollars are now the currency. A military presence roams the area but we never know on whose authority they work, or why they seek to take people ‘to Sydney’. And just what exactly ‘the collapse’ was and if it is a worldwide event is never known, but it happened and that, like all actions in the film, is that. There is no going back or hope for change as Eric, in the other mens’ car, drives around from place to place asking questions no one has answers to (namely “where is my car”) in a land where every man, woman, and child is left to fend for themselves.

The film sets its moral compass early and this may be hard for some audience to get behind. The man whose journey we follow shoots people dead without hesitation and people get killed wherever he goes, all because he wants his car back. In many ways The Rover is a Neo-Western, a ‘man’s gotta do’ film where the lines between good and bad are blurred or simply do not exist (think of James Mangold’s Cop Land or Sam Peckinpah’s The Getaway and Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia) but questions are always on our minds as to how far we can forgive Eric’s path of violence whilst knowing so little about him. A snippet of backstory is granted around two thirds in but this only deepens the moral ambiguity of our support (if that even exists) for Eric; when we learn of the contents of his car we feel emotions in juxtaposition. With the bloodshed for this (no spoilers here) we wonder what and who he has seen fall by the wayside in the past ten years, and what else he has done.

The car is all Eric has and is surely the last a tangible grasp of masculinity he has left other than his perfect aim with a weapon. Without the car he cannot travel but stealing it has taken away much more than just that luxury; it’s taken away perhaps the last thing which defines him, and his aggression and anger become primal instinct. Moreover, Eric is like a feral animal out there in the outback, roaming the land in search, belong neither here nor there; the collapse has turned him loose, no law, no authority to stop him.

Playing opposite Guy Pearce is Robert Pattinson as Ray, and their forced relationship is one of the most interesting pairings you’ll see this year. Both live ‘by the way of the gun’ but Ray has hopes at first, hopes for a reunion with his brother and hopes that God’s love will prevail. By the end, Ray is out for revenge on the brother who left him for dead, Eric having helped him see there is nothing and no one out there, just a man apart. Pattinson is excellent as the simple young man but cannot quite hold his own against the fury Guy Pearce brings; perhaps the unbalance in performance power is all part of their dynamic, however.

The look of the film is beautiful in its simplicity, adding to the feel of the film being a chamber play where the characters are the focus, not famous monuments now buried in sand. Shot on a budget of around $12 million, the film does a great job of making the impact of the collapse present in every scene; Eric’s hair is patchy like he’s cut it with a knife because that’s all he can find and his single costume is a dirty and sweaty shirt, cargo shorts, and running shoes, which asks the question; where was he when the collapse happened? Was he literally left with the clothes on his back and the rest of his world annihilated?

Stop thinking for yourself verdict: There is simply nothing to like in The Rover and not a single character to get behind, but Eric and Ray are all we have and this challenges us in a way rarely seen in today’s cinema. I want to be challenged by a film and make up my own mind about how I feel about the events and who is doing what to whom. Like so many original, non-tentpole films, The Rover has been overlooked at the box-office despite the Pattinson factor and I suspect it will have to wait many years before it has the wide audience it deserves. I can only recommend you too become part of the first wave of viewers; you will not leave disappointed.

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