[ Director: David Michôd; Screenwriter: David Michôd; Starring: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy, Tawanda Manyimo, David Field, Scott Perry; Running time: 103 minutes; Certification: 15 ]
Director David Michôd drew much attention with his feature debut Animal Kingdom, a seedy, broiling thriller that built atmosphere superbly and maintained it even better. Not much has changed with his follow-up, The Rover, an equally broiling and strange piece of work which can be lined up beside the likes of Blue Ruin and Cold In July for the year’s most deeply intense and bleak revenge/cat-and-mouse thrillers. Like Animal Kingdom, The Rover strips everything down to the bone, playing into the idea of less is more. From the limited cast to the minimalist plot, we soon realise what we’re watching here isn’t your typical highway thriller, but an experiment in realism. Real characters with real motives who find themselves brought together through entirely believable yet completely unspectacular circumstances.
Set against a backdrop not dissimilar to Mad Max, in an unestablished, vaguely post-apocalyptic Australia where crime and bandits appear to rule the vast highways and a sparse army attempts to keep the “peace”, grizzled drifter Eric (Pearce) discovers his car stolen by a group of criminals, who are seemingly on the run, before setting off to chase them down and win it back. And that’s our conflict. A man wants to get his car back. As muted a premise as it sounds, it actually leads into something really quite interesting as the story evolves from one man’s determination into two characters coming to terms with themselves through battling with each other. After Eric finds Rey (Pattinson) lying on the road, wounded and left by his companions, a thorny, intriguing relationship blossoms.
Two really fine performances bring the characters to life, in the barest sense of the word. Pearce has rarely been better than as the terse, intense, intimidating presence he portrays here, while Pattinson is impressively believable as a slightly dim-witted young pawn, seemingly drawn into the criminal circle his brother runs in against his will, who with every awkward blink and involuntary twitch draws empathy, while the ease with which he can take a life provides an interesting polarising edge to his character. The two of them spark off each other nicely, using expressions and presence to subjugate a script which doesn’t offer either of them much in the way of riveting or expository dialogue. Of what little there is, most of it is metaphorical and extraneous in terms of the plot.
The cinematography is striking, with its brown and sepia pallete, using the vast, open landscapes to juxtapose the intimate, almost claustrophobic atmosphere. The gorgeous visuals tend to offset the more esoteric and strange things, which can be fantastically rewarding if presented with a purpose, but alienating if just there for the sake of it. I think generally Michôd knows enough to know why he’s doing it, and what he’s trying to say, even if at times it all becomes a little too much. On the whole it’s an engaging and wistful piece that just about sustains its running time with enough thrills and raises plenty of questions. A far cry from the entertainment on offer in the screen next door showing Guardians Of The Galaxy, but one of the more interesting films out at the moment.