Review by-Jarrett Leahy
Ten years after a global-wide economic collapse, lawlessness rules the rugged outback of the Australian wilderness. When a group of desperate outlaws crashes its truck while running from the authorities, they frantically steal the first car available. Unfortunately for them, the car they chose belongs to Eric, a hardened transient with his own nefarious past, who has no desire to give up his last possession without a fight. While attempting to track down his beloved car, Eric happens upon Rey, the severely injured brother of the one of the outlaws who was left behind for dead. Determined, Eric decides to take the badly wounded Rey with him, hoping this naive, simple-minded young man will help lead him to the men he’s after.
A post-apocalyptic drama that some have playfully described as the unofficial prequel to Mad Max, The Rover is the second feature film of Australian writer/director David Michod. Michod’s directorial debut, the dark crime drama Animal Kingdom, was a breakout hit of 2010 (my #8 film of that year) and earned fellow Australian actress Jackie Weaver her first of two Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress (her second coming in Silver Linings Playbook). With The Rover, Michod teamed up with Aussie actor Joel Edgerton (Warrior, The Great Gatsby) to write the story for this foreboding drama about a man’s perilous expedition to hunt down the criminals who wronged him. Unfortunately, for all the film’s ominous atmosphere and menacing bursts of savagery, in the end, Michod’s grim creation comes off as a bit stagnant and anticlimactic.
More than anything, it was the film’s Australian wilderness location that originally drew me to The Rover. Michod and cinematographer Natasha Braier do an admirable job capturing the vast, boundless beauty of the Outback while utilizing its distressing desolation to aid the film’s apprehensiveness. Anthony Partos, the veteran composer who also worked with Michod on Animal Kingdom, helped further the film’s uncomfortable feeling of isolation with a haunting musical score that played up the sinister aspect of this society in shambles. Unfortunately, this climactic atmosphere is all but wasted by an ending I found to be disappointingly innocuous and insipid.
Not all is lost, however, when it comes to The Rover. The film’s lustrous highlight is its lead performer, Guy Pearce. A veteran actor of limitless talents, his nothing-left-to-lose persona is superbly malevolent. Embracing the untamed brutality and malcontent of this misanthropic antihero, Pearce’s Eric is unrelenting in his desire for retribution. Teaming up with Pearce is consummate teen heartthrob Robert Pattinson. Similar to many of Shia LaBeouf’s recent role choices, Pattinson’s overly-unpolished portrayal of Rey screams of a man desperate to shake his unwavering Twilight persona. Delivering an indistinct, out-of-place accent that sounds like an odd combination of East Texas meets Forrest Gump, Pattinson’s performance is…sufficient, yet it still feels grossly underwhelming when compared to his far superior counterpart.
After my immense enjoyment of his first film, I had a moderate anticipation to see what David Michod had in store for us with The Rover. While by no means a failure, Michod’s post-apocalyptic examination of the ugliness of man is a bleak drama that falls flat of its lofty ambitions due in large part to an ending that is disappointingly inadequate in comparison to the events building up to it. Highlighted by Guy Pearce’s ferocious and malice-filled performance, there is enough here, nonetheless, for me to give Michod another chance to wow me with whatever project he chooses to tackle next.-JL