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Movie Review: “The Rover”

Movie Review: “The Rover”
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I will see any film with Guy Pearce in it.  He’s an incredible actor who for the most part chooses interesting, challenging roles in demanding films that offer something different.  Okay, I’m not a fan of the big budget Hollywood stuff such as “Iron Man 3”…but I still enjoy his performances!  He even made Adam Sandler’s “Bedtime Stories” palatable!

In David Michod’s “The Rover”, a spare crime spree set in the Australian outback of a cruel dystopian future, Pearce dials back his personality and energy to an almost static level. Despite some beautiful cinematography, an intriguing central character, and some stylish, suspenseful scenes, it’s hard to become emotionally invested in to this cold, anemic story. Which is a shame, as Michod is the writer/director of 2011’s “Animal Kingdom” which was knee-twitchingly tense and jittery

After an unexplained global crisis ten years hence, society has broken down to a lawless, dangerous state. The Australian outback looks like the Old West where outlaws flourish and death is a way of life. Eric (Pearce) is a bearded, grizzly loner, a man of few words but strong convictions.  When his car is stolen by a trio of violent criminals led by Henry (Scoot McNairy) he gives chase with reckless abandon. As we grow to know Eric, we understand that he has little left to live for or care about. His car symbolizes everything he has lost in the world and he wants it back.

Eric eventually joins forces with a wounded American Rey (Robert Pattinson) who is the brother of Henry. They both have an interest in tracking the thieves down, although Rey’s motives are murkier. Is he to be trusted? His simple intellect and slow, Southern drawl indicate a lost-child, a naïf in a world of corruption. His relationship with Eric, while never becoming warm, nevertheless becomes a bond in a culture where loyalty and friendship are forgotten virtues.

Drawing on the genre rhythms of Westerns and post-apocalyptic road movies, Michod grounds this slow-burn revenge thriller in a contemporary reality. We may be in the future, but everything looks frighteningly like today. A few changes hint at a global economic shift: the Australian dollar is worthless, Rey speaks Mandarin and clearly some kind of martial law is in place. Small pockets of humanity survive, as when Eric takes the bleeding Rey to a kind doctor. But more often than not, cold-hearted killing takes the place of law and order.

Pearce acts mostly with his burning eyes. Cold, piercing and determined, they tell us more about his character than the script. We wonder what has happened to Eric. We root for him. But as the bodies pile up and the blood splatters, I felt myself disconnecting. The ending, almost risible,  brings a wry smile to the face but I’m not sure it merited what went before. “The Rover” is meticulously crafted, stunningly photographed (by Natasha Braier) and hauntingly set to the moody music of Antony Partos. Pearce makes you want to care about Eric. But in the end, the starkness of it all is too much and Eric is as desolate and unforgiving as the wizened, arid desert.


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