The Rover Movie Review
“Australia. Ten Years After The Collapse.” That is all the information given and necessary for writer/director David Michôd‘s bleak dystopian future in THE ROVER.
A man sits in his car on a hot Australian day. With the sun shining down and the flies buzzing around his disheveled beard, the man stares as if in deep thought before finally opening the door and heading into a single story rundown building. Nothing appears to surround them except empty fields and dirt roads. Once inside, two men sit on a beaten up couch with rifles. Our man walks past them into what was once a restroom, submerges his hands into a barrel of water and splashes his face. Walking back to the front, he takes a seat at the empty bar, grabs himself a dirty glass and pours a drink. A truck containing three men who are fleeing from a crime scene, rolls past the window crashing and lodging themselves into some debris. The three men, armed with guns and a bag containing unknown items, rush out of their vehicle, break the window of the only car insight – our man’s. After quickly hot-wiring the automobile, they are off again. Our man jumps into the abandoned truck, freeing the vehicle, and pursuing the dangerous men. Or is he the dangerous man? THE ROVER is the story of one man’s determination to get back his last possession at all costs.
The details to this opening scene are quite riveting with purpose and tension built around the smallest actions. An entire story is being told with a minimalist point of view through exceptional direction and cinematography. THE ROVER sets a compelling tone in character, place, and motivation. But when our man comes across the dying brother of one of the men he’s after, the story takes a different turn as a dramatic buddy movie. Understanding the duality of the characters and the world they live in is key to embracing their story – one losing his car, the other losing the love from his brother who left him for dead. These are the only things that these men have in their lives, yet THE ROVER nearly rolls over and plays dead through a lack of captivating action or sequences. The danger still continues but in a structure that feels less impactful. The story lulls in a way that I suspect will bring many viewers, like our characters, to a rough slumber on a rocky abandoned road.
In 2010, David Michôd burst onto the scene with a little film called ANIMAL KINGDOM. The film earned many critical accolades including a Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for Jackie Weaver. As a huge fan of the film’s original screenplay and the promising director, coupled with the fact that one of my current favorite actors, Joel Edgerton, who also starred in ANIMAL KINGDOM (and in more recent films like WARRIOR and GATSBY), co-wrote the story with Michôd, my expectations for THE ROVER may have been set unreasonably high.
Guy Pearce embodies our mysterious man with cold stoic strength yet a vulnerable understanding. The character is dark with wicked and quick brutality but there is something extremely compelling about him that makes the viewer want to know him more and follow his plight. I credit this to Pearce’s magnetic performance, as the character is evil enough to lose the audience if being handled by a lesser actor. I wish the same could be said of Robert Pattinson, who I think is talented and doesn’t necessarily do a bad job as the dimwitted prisoner turned partner, but simply didn’t work for me in this role. I was so distracted by the character’s ticks and voice pattern that I could never fully invest in him. Perhaps the fault lies more with the character rather than the actor or maybe that heartthrob vampire status was unfairly too heavy of a stigma to overcome in this viewer’s mind. Subsequently, the pace and intensity of the film drops considerably once Pattinson’s character shows up and is never really able to gain back that initial momentum until the very end.
The final scene gives a nice reveal that brings the film around in a way that I wasn’t expecting. At that point I had nearly given up on THE ROVER, but the surprise made sense to me in a way that was almost frightening. Unfortunately, the journey to get there was simply less captivating. With a strong opening and ending, THE ROVER sets the appropriate mood but loses its way for too long. What’s the use of quality bread if you don’t put any savory meat inbetween? Scenes from the film will find a way to embed their way into your psyche well after it ends, and for that I still recommend it to those who enjoyed ANIMAL KINGDOM, but as a whole THE ROVER comes off as a bumpy disappointment. I think the talented director and the film still have quite a lot to offer, just not in a way that I can champion as highly.