Review: 'The Rover' Takes Too Long to Travel Too Short of a Distance
by Jeremy Kirk
June 20, 2014
As post-apocalyptic thrillers go, The Rover falls more in line with The Road than The Road Warrior. David Michôd’s follow-up to the intense crime drama, Animal Kingdom, is wrought with melancholic atmosphere and low on action-heavy narrative. More low simmer than slow-burn, its drama and action take too many stale side streets and not enough free-flowing highways. As its name implies, The Rover is a road movie, and Michôd creates his end-of-the-world scenario with all the dirt, flies, and gas-guzzlers you would expect in a film from Down Under. This is one road picture that despite heavy performances from Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson, has difficulty going anywhere but headlong towards its end credits.
The world Michôd crafts in The Rover is one ten years removed from “the collapse.” What that precisely means is never revealed, but the reasons for the change in the world are unessential. "The collapse" is just an excuse for our protagonist, The Rover (Pearce), to roam the Outback roads in his car, pop into a bar now and again, and generally look depressed the whole time doing it. That depression quickly turns to anger when, during one of his bar-stops, his vehicle is stolen by a group of thieves. What is a mild-mannered Rover to do in a gritty, post-apocalyptic world but head down the highway for good, old fashioned revenge?
It isn’t long before questions begin popping up in regards to the film's screenplay. The important questions, as already mentioned, aren’t necessary for The Rover's story to be told, but Michôd, who shares a "story by" credit here with Joel Edgerton, fills his screenplay with logical problems, issues with how characters react, especially given the current predicament the planet seems to be in. Though the thieves’ truck flips and gets tangled up (all brilliantly executed, by the way, but we’ll get to that) there’s really no reason for them to steal Pearce’s car. It’s especially a valid case when we see Pearce, upon noticing his vehicle is stolen, hops in the thieves’ truck, works it loose, and begins to give chase. When the thieves finally pull over and exit the vehicle to confront Pearce, guns at the ready, they seem more annoyed that he’s following them.
All of this plays over the film’s opening moments, the real road/chase movie soon to come. The intentions are apparent. This is a hard world on display in The Rover, one where you kill or be killed, drive to survive. Yet, even the most casual choices some of the secondary characters make here are questionable, as if the only motivation is in advancing the story at hand. The screenwriting shows, and in creating a world that is far enough removed from anything genuine or honest, that becomes a noticeable problem as The Rover progresses. How did all these unintelligent people survive 10 years after the collapse?
Which probably makes this as good a time as any to bring up Pattinson’s character, younger brother to one of the car thieves who soon finds himself accompanying Pearce on the road to revenge. The character is not fully developed mentally, a key aspect that isn’t made too clear until Pearce comes right out and says so. The film even makes you question the relationship between the two, the naivety about the world in Pattinson’s character almost playing a buddy-buddy counterbalance to Pearce’s hardened man of the world. That question, as long as we’re keeping track, is one of The Rover’s more deliberate and powerful elements.
Michôd’s film leaves hints of a greater film. The “bond” between the two leads is right there on the page, and the performances don’t leave much to the imagination. But, as arid and soulless as this world is, the staginess of each scene, each progressively more violent than the previous, keeps the drama from ever bleeding into anything real. The lack of information about the world helps with ambiguity, but the film seems to go to out of its way to keep the audience in the dark about much of what's really going on. There's a military presence throughout the film, but it too only plays a role in progressing the screenplay, not much given in the way of world-building with that aspect.
The execution at work here is arguably top-notch,Michôd handling his actors as effortlessly as he handles the mood. Pearce is all mumble and grit and could play this type of "straight-man with a mysterious past" in a coma. He's an ideal choice for the role, the same not being said about Pattinson. On the plus side, though, Pattinson, always a better actor than the material with which he was working allows, plays his character with the perfect level of uncertainty. The performance is spot-on. It's just unfortunate that the character feels as if he was dropped right into the aftermath of this cataclysmic event.
And so it goes with much of The Rover, superb work being pulled together and utilized for the sake of telling a fairly uninteresting story. Much of the film plays out precisely as you might expect, very little coming down that highway in the way of shocking revelations or sudden left turns in the story. By the time Michôd unveils the finally revelation about his lead character, the stagnant narrative has sapped any energy that's left to give. The Rover is a mood piece disguised as a post-apocalyptic action/adventure, a wordy, languid film that would be far more interesting if it had much of anything to say.
Jeremy's Rating: 5 out of 10
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