Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 42 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Language and some Bloody Violence
Directed by: David Michod
Written by: David Michod
Starring: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy, Gillian Jones, David Field, Tawanda Manyimo, Anthony Hayes & Susan Prior
I have yet to see ANIMAL KINGDOM, but judging from THE ROVER, I can safely say that David Michod likely has a future making fantastic cinema. This is far from a perfect film and certain elements were not well executed. However, the sheer force of talent on display in most areas showcase an Australian filmmaker with a penchant for crafting interesting stories. THE ROVER feels like David Lynch directing a Cormac McCarthy book. It’s bleak, strange, and wholly engrossing from frame one. The payoff didn’t satisfy me, but the journey getting there is one worth taking for those who don’t mind a deliberately paced film that has not a single thing resembling an upbeat take on the world. This is a dark story set in harsh conditions and that comes across on the screen.
It has been a decade since something called the “Collapse” happened. Australia has been left in a near-apocalyptic state. People are desperate for money, though we are told multiple times this is now regulated to useless pieces of paper. These desperate folks also have no qualms about shooting each other over petty things. Eric is a quiet man whose sole possession of value is a car parked outside his residence. When a trio of thugs steals Eric’s car, he takes it upon himself to hunt them down and get his vehicle back. Aided by Rey, a simple brother of one of the thugs, Eric takes a painstaking journey to retrieve his vehicle and will kill anybody who gets in his way.
There’s not a character worth rooting for in THE ROVER. That might come across as a negative trait for some viewers, but I found it to be kind of refreshing. These are troubled people in bleak times doing horrible things to each other over simple material things. Little is explained to us about what exactly the “Collapse” was and why certain things are the way they are. It added a level of mystery to everything and let the viewer throw in their own theories about how things worked. The plot is bare-bones simple. It’s about a guy trying to get his stolen car back. That’s it. That’s the plot and the execution is where many things soar. Every scene is put together in a calm, assured sense that never lets the viewer relax. We know that at any point blood might be shed over the most pointless things and that’s a good reason to be on the edge of your seat.
As Eric, Guy Pearce portrays a damaged and dangerous man. He almost seems like a sort of anti-hero until one scene in the first 10 minutes that explicitly spells out that he’s not a good guy. Just like everything else in this post-apocalyptic world, no specific details are outright given about this character. One of the few dialogue exchanges in the move tells you all you need to know about this man. Robert Pattinson (known for his roles in the much maligned TWILIGHT Saga) does a solid enough job of playing Rey. He’s a mentally disabled type that relies heavily on those around him. Pattinson does a stellar job in most scenes (nailing the facial tics of this young man), but can get a little over-the-top in some areas. Scoot McNairy (KILLING THEM SOFTLY and NON-STOP) also shows up in a few scenes as Rey’s brother, but not a whole lot of time is spent on any characters other than Pearce and Pattinson. The performances mainly rely in the body language of the actors though. Much of the movie is dialogue free, though sometimes the soundtrack can get grating. There’s one annoying pop song that stuck out like a sore thumb. The quiet tension in other moments is so thick that you could cut it with a knife. The first 40 minutes are stellar and a long sequence at rundown motel is amazing.
Not all is perfect with THE ROVER though. The disappointing ending and running at a snail’s pace keep the movie from reaching a glorious level of quality. The film does drag in some long stretches. This is especially disappointing given how well the first forty minutes were playing out. The pacing was deliberate in those, but it was paying off in spades. The middle section is just downright boring in areas. The ending is anti-climatic to say the least. I would have been very satisfied if it had cut to credits a minute before it actually did. There was one shot that sparked my curiosity and it was better left ambiguous, rather than spelling things out with an unconvincing final shot that didn’t blend in well with the rest of the film.
THE ROVER winds up being a decent movie with moments of greatness. The first 40 minutes are stellar and a few sequences after are beyond intense. However, I didn’t buy the climax and some parts drag to an unnecessary degree. Pearce delivers a powerhouse performance. Pattinson is solid, but can come off as a little cheesy here and there. The film is beautifully put together in the sheer visual scope of the world being shown, but the pacing and ending needed some work. I’m glad I saw THE ROVER, even with those significant flaws in mind. It’s most definitely not for everyone. If you’re a fan of Cormac McCarthy, David Lynch, and (I’m guessing) David Michod’s previous film, then this should be worth your time.