Movie Review: The Rover
The Rover, from Australian director David Michod, expanded to wide U.S. release this weekend, after quietly picking up steam through the awards and independent circuits. It features Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson (of Twilight fame, though don’t run away shrieking yet) as two very damaged protagonists in a post-collapse Australia, though precisely what type of collapse is never made clear. Thrown together by a heist gone sour, the pair, at first master and prisoner, slowly become more equal partners as they search for the men who stole Pearce’s car and left Pattinson to die. Many questions are raised by the cross country vendetta the two adventure upon, though the most important one may be why on Earth is any of this happening? The movie struggles along for the better part of two hours, blithely ignoring any attempt at clarification.
The best lack all conviction…
Our first introduction to our main protagonist, Guy Pearce’s nameless avenger, sets the tone for most of the character “interactions” found in The Rover: Pearce arrives at a way stop, is gawked at by two armed men, and proceeds to meander about until fate arrives in the form of three hapless bandits. These men, fresh off a botched job, argue amongst themselves until coming to blows…while driving at excessive speed. Naturally this leads to them crashing just outside the way station. The two armed men investigate…well you would assume they are going outside to investigate, but when the three criminals exit their vehicle and break into Pearce’s car, they just stand mutely around. Gawking seems to be their only real job in this film. Pearce, despite later evincing a real monomaniacal protectiveness of his car, remains inside while it is stolen. Perhaps the blaring Asian pop music that has been assaulting the audience has likewise addled his wits. You would think he would be curious about where the gawking men with guns have gone, though.
Pearce exits just in time to see his car leaving, so he jumps into the criminals’ car to give chase. Yup. The same car that three mostly able-bodied men discarded as too junked to continue in. Runs like a dream for Pearce. Lucky coincidence. Yeesh. He gives chase like a lunatic, and finally runs the men down. He then confronts the desperate and heavily armed criminals with just the power of his rage and stupidity. It goes about as well as you would expect. Why the three don’t just shoot him is beyond me, but we wouldn’t have another hour and a half of inexplicable movie on our hands if they did the logical thing and kill the maniac who has just stated that he will pursue them to hell and back for his car. These losers make Joe Pesci’s “sticky bandits” look like the Ocean’s Eleven.
Pearce awakens in the dessert…next to the completely functional car from the heist and helpfully placed car keys. They moved the car and Pearce…and then simply dropped the keys and left. I’m telling you, these criminals have a death wish. Unfortunately it’s not actually a Death Wish, because that was a decent film. Our perma-enraged hero heads to the nearest town, engages in one-sided question and answer sessions with the mentally deranged inhabitants, gets a gun, and receives another gift from fate, in the form of Robert Pattinson’s mentally-handicapped character, Rey. Pattinson is the younger brother of one of the criminals, and was left for dead at the heist. He tails Pearce because Pearce is now driving his brother’s car. Before Pearce can properly use his best angry face on him, Pattinson passes out from blood loss.
…While the worst are full of passionate intensity.
The rest of the movie unfolds in this manner. Pearce encounters people and virtually sweats rage and menace at them for no discernible reason. These blighted dolts then “answer” his questions with non-sequiturs, while Pattinson actually attempts to act like a human being and keep the plot moving by spoon feeding the audience the only relevant information we are ever privy to. Michod appears to believe that it is alright to leave any world building or character development solely to Pattinson, who I must say is acting his ass off in this picture. In a world full of the witless, Pattinson’s half-wit is king.
The center cannot hold;
Pattinson’s heroic efforts are ultimately in vain. The Rover resolutely refuses to tell a story worth caring about. The motivations of the characters are either paper-thin or completely absent. The plot lurches from scene to scene without any sense of organic transition or logical consistency. The people who populate this farce are mean, ugly, and completely senseless. Pattinson is the only person that the audience can remotely relate to, and he is mostly marginalized in scenes he shares with Pearce, who is by far the inferior character. I spent the last half hour longing for Pattinson’s Rey to wise up and shoot his seething companion in the back. When he ends up rescuing him from a well-deserved fate, I nearly threw up my hands and left. The hope that he would eventually shoot Pearce was my only motivation to watch the sad show writhe towards its telegraphed finale.
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.
The Rover offers some excellent visuals, but fails to rise to the challenge of being an actual movie. Stunning vistas and cute camera tricks abound, but most of the voltage in the movie comes from the natural beauty and sere austerity of the terrain. Australia itself is a better character than anything Michod can manage to hurl at the screen. The soundtrack and effects are used to jar and attack the audience: the music is misplaced and overly intense, the crackle of gunfire is unrestrained and feels like a taunt from the director, daring you to try to concentrate on the non-story he is telling. The only moment of aural pleasure I found was again from Pattinson, as he crooned along in a broken voice to a hip hop song (which had bled into the previous scene at full volume, just to mess with any sense of atmosphere the movie had inadvertently created.)
The sheer amount of discord on display in this film actually led me to believe that the Collapse mentioned at the beginning was some sort of society-distorting disease. Perhaps, like ID software’s game Rage, the world was ended in blood and fire because men became unable to treat each other with anything but anger and violence. That would be a tidy and clever trope (if not original, 28 Days Later used the idea in a much better film) and it would actually explain Pearce’s perplexing anger, and the complete failure of any of the characters to engage in any meaningful interaction. But alas, a bit of digging shows that Michod had envisioned a purely economic collapse. Apparently poverty has completely rid humanity of its ability to cooperate or proceed logically towards any goal more complex than shooting anyone else on sight. I was disappointed to discover such a missed opportunity, but as I discovered with The Rover, disappointment was the only game in town.