“AUSTRALIA. TEN YEARS AFTER THE COLLAPSE.” opens The Rover, although it takes only minutes to put this together for ourselves. While not set in the same world as Mad Max by any means, the film manages to capture a hauntingly real world where economies and governments have failed, turning ordinary people into criminals and killers.
Set in the Outback of Australia, the scenery plays a key role, not only providing the setting for this revengeful “road movie,” but instilling within its viewers the sense of emptiness, the decaying of natural beauty, and a nowhere-to-hide mentality of a world gone mad. Because besides that opening title card, The Rover relies on its surroundings to establish the characters circumstances, while otherwise focusing tightly on the tension-filled, yet minimalist plot.
The film opens on a long close-up of Eric (Guy Pearce) as he sits in his car, contemplating what his next move is before walking into one of many rundown buildings throughout and pouring himself a drink. Cut to a Reservoir Dogs-esque scene of three men speeding down the highway, arguing about the shootout that occurred just moments before. One of the men, Henry (Scoot McNairy), is bleeding from a gunshot in his leg, and emotional over having to leave his brother Rey behind. Angry words turn into blows and next thing you know, the car is spinning out of control and flips before stalling out in front of the seedy shack that Eric has stopped in. Paying no attention to the destruction behind him, Eric is too late to notice the three man switched their car for his. He manages to get the truck going quickly and heads after the men and more importantly, his car.
And there is the essence of the film. Perhaps he’s had enough for the day or that the car has more meaning to him that just a vehicle, but Eric is dead set on getting it back and stops at nothing to do so. He eventually encounters Rey (Robert Pattinson), who has a mental handicap, and forces him to tag along and assist in tracking down and getting the car back from his brother. Details on plot stop here because of how truly minimalist The Rover is. And that’s not a bad thing.
Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson deliver excellent performances throughout. Pearce is mostly stone-faced, forcing down every emotion that doesn’t aid him in getting a job done. Pattinson on the other hand gives the performance of his career to date, bringing the slow-witted Rey to life in subdued form. The filmmaking is intentionally focused, yet delicately voyeuristic, showing that director David Michod (Animal Kingdom) is a master at the craft.
The film won’t be for everyone. It’s an incredibly slow burning character piece that. although high in tension, at many times feels like nothing is happening to drive the story forward. Of course, this is perhaps The Rover‘s intention, pointing out that very detail in once scene. “Not everything has to mean something.” Yet every scene allows us to get lost in its strong characters and performances and leads us to a pay off that, like the film itself, might not be for everyone, but will certainly be gratifying for many who can relate on a very basic humanistic level. In the end, you’ll either leave bored or want to talk about it for a days. [A-]
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