The Rover (2014) | Can't Stop the Movies
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The Rover (2014)

The Rover with Guy Pearce

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The Rover follows a man (played by Guy Pearce) through a post-apocalyptic Australian outback as he pursues a group of gunmen who have stolen his car. With one of the men's younger brothers (Robert Pattinson) as a captive, the two encounter the desperate vestiges of a broken and desolate society. (Currently available on Amazon VOD, and coming out on DVD on September 23.) 

The Rover with Guy Pearce KyleLikeNew

The Rover starts almost wordlessly, with something under 10 sentences uttered over the first 15 minutes. A man (Guy Pearce) drives through the desert to a small building, walks inside past two strung-out guys in the entryway (which looks to be a convenience store converted halfway into a living space), opens a large cooler and takes out a beer, and sits silently at a counter drinking it. We get the feeling none of these people speak unless they have to, lest they use their last bit of willpower on something not 100% necessary. The landscape outside is harsh and bright, but not colorful—this is the opposite of the cold, wet world of The Road, and more resembles The Proposition (The Road director John Hillcoat's previous film).

Almost immediately, a large Hummer-style military vehicle crashes outside (pretty spectacularly—in fact these few shots have the most overt energy of the entire film), and four armed gunmen pile out, one of them shot and bleeding. The others argue over what to do before leaving the fourth there to die, stealing the Pearce character's car, and tearing off down the road again. Some of the cleverness of The Rover's screenplay is that for a time being this is all the film's events are based on—Pearce's character (IMDB says his name is Eric, which someone probably says at some point) wrestles the gumen's vehicle out of a ditch and pursues them, and what follows is, well, the rest of the movie.

Pearce and Pattinson in the barren Australian outback

One of the reasons the Australian outback works so well as a post-apocalyptic setting is its mix of such unforgiving desolation and haunting beauty.

This simplicity works to establish not only the world The Rover takes place in, set 10 years after an appropriately and essentially vague economic collapse (referred to as The Collapse), but also the way in which an absence of an advanced economy has stripped life down to the bare essentials for these people. As the movie goes on, the central mystery is why Eric could possibly care so much about retrieving a simple car—but this stands in for a larger question, which is what holds value in a society stripped down to its basest elements? Most of the people we encounter throughout the story seem almost indifferent to any relic of the past that's not canned food—they still use guns, electric generators, cars, etc., but nothing without a strict utilitarian purpose has any value. They are past nostalgia. If surviving is the only thing, why does anything else matter?

We get the sense early on that survival may not even be that important to Eric. Immediately following the opening sequence described above, he confronts the gunmen a few miles down the road and demands his car back. Even when they point a shotgun in his face, he's undettered. They will be giving him his car back—it's a fact in his mind. And it's not that he doesn't see the danger in the situation, more like danger isn't a factor in his general worldview.

Guy Pearce holding gun

Anything resembling a domestic setting in The Rover is usually fraught with tension.

Eventually he takes captive the fourth man who was left behind, one of the gunmen's younger brothers played by Robert Pattinson, and forces him to lead them to wherever the men where going. In a way, The Rover takes the form of a road movie, with the two stopping in random spots for food, fuel, information, and medical help. The resulting scenes give us a look at the state their world has reverted to, one of paranoia and lawlessness where people prefer to live alone and isolated in small groups either for safety or to maintain control over those they can—a character referred to only as “Grandma” acts as a disturbing reflection of the kind of domestic civility no longer present here.

Pattinson is good as Rey, a young man hurt by his brother's abandonment and craving the approval and validation of the older Eric even as he's forced into dangerous situations against his will. Rey has some kind of slight impairment we never learn anything about, but he is not stupid—sometimes he feigns ignorance, taking advantage of Eric's assumptions about him, and at others he has a childish pride in his ability to help out in unexpected ways. The process of Rey's shifting alleigance away from his brother is interesting in that it's built on an uneven system of exchange: Rey just wants to be recognized as something other than a simpleton—to have someone give him more credit than he's typically shown—while Eric needs Rey for his own ends. A great later scene shows Rey coming to the rescue with an almost a dog-like loyalty when Eric is captured by the remnants of the military (functioning now more like for-profit military contractors). The way he tries so hard to play it cool when describing how he charged in guns blazing betrays how desperately he needs Eric to view him as an equal.

Robert Pattinson in The Rover

Robert Pattinson shows a decent range, with a lot of subtle things going on under an otherwise heavily mannered performance.

And yet the most striking thing about The Rover is the way it deals with violence. These sorts of movies always employ violence as an essential and defining aspect of their worlds, but here it is shocking in the utterly casual way it erupts onscreen even when we're expecting it. The violence is not exciting or stylized, but born out of seeming necessity and often without moral engagement. Violence is a means of getting what the characters need, and the way they employ it almost rationally and without afterthought betrays not only a loss of empathy, but of value for life.

A striking scene late in the movie has a character accusing Eric of being responsible for so much of the death that has lead up to that point, and there's a brief moment, perfectly encapsulated in Guy Pearce's reaction, where we realize he's right. The half-society he and Rey have navigated through over the course of the film is brutal and lawless, but Eric's deliberate engagement with that society for what seems to be petty revenge—who would do all this for a car?—positions him not just as a man with little regard for any life, including his own, but as one who seeks out death.

Eric at the military base

You won't find many actors as under-appreciated as Guy Pearce, and his work here confirms that.

The ending, which isn't really a surprise, but instead feels like a deliberately anti-climactic reveal, indicates that his worldview isn't quite so barren as it may seem. It works because it uncovers humanity in a character who seems to think himself devoid of it. One of the complaints that will be levied against The Rover is that it retraces too many steps from other, similarly western-influenced entries in the postapocalyptic vein—that's valid. But in retracing these steps through a character for whom the possibility of redemption seems to have long past expired—and who maybe never had a chance to begin with—it asks more interesting questions about the desperation of the worlds these movies inhabit, and what that desperation can and can't wear down.

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Tail - The RoverThe Rover (2014)

Directed by David Michod.
Screenplay written by David Michod. Story by Joel Edgerton and Michod.
Starring Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson.

Posted by Kyle Miner

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