“Never stop thinking about the life you’ve taken, that’s the price you pay for taking it.”
The H-Bomb: In a post-apocalyptic Australia, three nasty blokes speed through the remote Outback, fleeing a botched robbery. Their non-stop bickering causes them to crash their truck. Fortunately for them, there’s a car sitting nearby that they hot wire and take off in. Unfortunately for them, that car is owned by Eric (Guy Pearce), a stoic drifter who had something of great value to him stashed away in the boot of the car. So, Eric manages to get their wrecked truck running, and chases after them.
Along the way, he encounters a slow witted young man named Rey (Robert Pattinson), who, as it happens, is the brother of one of the three men. Turns out Rey was a part of that hold-up that went horribly wrong, and was left behind by his brother and two accomplices after he was wounded. So, with Rey as his pseudo-hostage, Eric continues his pursuit of the three men across the desert. It will be a perilous journey, as there are numerous killers and thieves roaming about the countryside, as well as the military, who are also searching for the robbery suspects.
As Eric embarks on this dangerous journey, the question that comes to mind is, what could he possibly have in his car that he would be so desperate to get back? Of course the answer to that question is something I can’t give away here. What I can tell you is that this blood soaked road movie is, ultimately, much more about the journey than the destination.
I’ve already gone on a spiel in an earlier review about how post-apocalyptic movies seem to be all the rage these days, so I’ll avoid going over all that again. I will say, though, that of all the films to come out this year depicting life after the collapse of civilized society, The Rover, which has been out on DVD for a while now, is by far the bleakest, the harshest, and the most utterly hopeless. It’s not quite as dour or depressing as The Road from 2009, but damn does it come close.
Written and directed by David Michod (Animal Kingdom), from a story by Michod and actor Joel Edgerton, The Rover is set in a grimy, sun baked wasteland that Mad Max would feel right at home in, where life is especially cheap and humanity is a long forgotten concept. This is a world where it truly is every man for himself, and compassion will only get you killed. A world where dogs are food, soldiers use young girls as decoys, and little old ladies are willing to pimp out their young grandsons for the right price.
The cinematography by Natasha Braier captures the desolate landscape, which is both beautiful and haunting, with a sense of despair; this world is lost, the characters know that, and they have no interest in saving it, just surviving in it. The threat of violence lingers constantly, and when it does happen, it’s fast, bloody, and potent. Michod keeps the picture moving at a steady, if somewhat slow, pace, though the film is never boring, and the way silence is used is downright unsettling. The dialogue is sparse and the emotions are muted, however, the entire cast shines.
Pearce gives what is easily his best performance since Memento. Strong, silent, but certainly not a hero, his Eric is an unadulterated Aussie bad-ass with a scarred, weathered face that only hints at the shit he had to do to survive in this ass crack of a dystopia. He’s brutal, amoral, and slightly south of sympathetic… yet he’s certainly compelling, and we do pull for him more or less by default. There is, however, a sliver of humanity beneath that jaded, rough and tumble exterior, and Pearce conveys that with flawless conviction. He is one under-rated motherfucker, if I do say so myself.
Pattinson, who I dismissed as a pouty, soulless male model in Twilight, and flat out fucking panned in that pretentious shit heap Cosmopolis, gives a revelatory turn here. As the simple, childlike Rey, he is the lone sympathetic soul in this roadshow of repugnancy, and his strong performance is this movie’s biggest surprise. Like Pearce, he has very little dialogue to work with, yet his face and mannerisms express so much, particularly in a scene where he has to cope with the aftermath of killing an innocent. Pattinson is kind of fantastic here. He’s a real fucking actor, after all. Who’d have thunk it?
While the two lead performances are terrific, and I personally enjoyed the film immensely, I am somewhat hard pressed to recommend The Rover, because it is, overall, a relentless Goddamn downer. To say it isn’t for everyone is so obvious it’s almost insulting. It’s a grim, violent ride that offers very little in the way of levity, and while I personally found the movie’s finale poignant and powerful, others will simply be left scratching their heads and asking, “What? That’s it? Really???” Those who can dig dark, challenging flicks will find quite a lot to like here. More mainstream audiences, I’m afraid, will simply find it off putting. For the popcorn munching masses, this is not.