Cannes 2014: Michôd's 'The Rover' - A Quiet Film That Speaks Loudly
by Alex Billington
May 17, 2014
The power of silence. At Sundance in 2010 I fell hard for a gritty, unforgiving Australian crime drama called Animal Kingdom, directed by David Michôd. His next film, titled The Rover, just premiered at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival and Michôd has once again created an unrelenting, brutal and carefully calculated subversive post-apocalyptic thriller with hints of Mad Max. But a much better comparison, even though I hate to make another comparison, is Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive, the Cannes 2011 breakout. The power of The Rover is in its silence, and bleak imagery. Michod's choices and shots speak loudly without being loud.
It must be said up front that The Rover is not a film for regular audiences. As with Drive, which left some oddly confused and bored, it's a film with minimal dialogue, and no guides, no handle bars to hang onto as an audience. We're just thrown into this bleak world set "10 years after the collapse" without introduction, or any exposition, explanation, or backstory. The film follows Eric, played by a bearded, grisly Guy Pearce, whose car is stolen in the opening scenes. He just wants his car back, and goes after the thieves, eventually embarking upon a journey across the barrens of the desolate and dust-worn Australia wild. Along the way he picks up Rey, a slurring "half-wit" played by Robert Pattinson, who reluctantly takes him to his brother.
Instead of showing most of the action and following it like a Hollywood cameraman, director David Michôd sets up the frame and let's the actors' expressions and faces speak for themselves. Action in the background, and around them, occurs while they continue on their own path through this dusty wasteland. It is possible to follow along, questionably, wondering where this is headed, what it all means, and if someone is going to turn on someone else anytime soon. At the turn of a head, a trigger can be pulled, and a character we just met can be gone forever, without so much as pausing for a moment of reflection. I couldn't help but wonder if there's an anti-gun/violence message buried deep within this thanks to the raw, relentless brutality of it.
While the film and its experience is fresh in my mind, the more I begin to think about it and process it even as I begin writing about it, the more I realize how much Michôd has hidden in the silence, in the quietness and dialogue-free moments. In turn, this makes every last word spoken that much more important. Pearce, similar to Ryan Gosling in Drive, carefully chooses every word, every twitch, every muscle in his body to deliver a performance that speaks volumes while actually saying very little. Even Robert Pattinson, giving one of his best fidgety, aloof performances to date, has so much more to say between every word he speaks.
Michôd is one of those rare filmmakers that has a style that subverts the typical notions of straightforward cinema, and challenges audiences to look deeper, to search between the performances and the dialogue, to find a more meaningful depth beneath the surface. It touches upon the actual reality of humanity, and how much depth there is in each and every person. The idea that, even though we may not exactly say everything we want to, that we do want to convey so much, and our actions often speak louder than words. Michôd has tapped into this with an original, gritty, and challenging post-apocalyptic drama. I must see it again, to get even more out of it, to find more in it, as I know there's much more to it that I haven't even discovered yet.
Alex's Cannes Rating: 8 out of 10