In a world where all is truly lost, what holds genuine value? That's the question posed in director David Michôd's
The Rover, a broodingly deliberate tale of desperation set ten years after the fall of society. With a bleak story that takes us into the depths of one man's suffering in an environment where murder is a reflex, The Rover is an uncompromising reflection on humanity that's as bleak on the surface as it is underneath. A decade after the collapse of the Western world, Australia has become a lawless wasteland. As desperate outsiders pillage the country's precious mineral resources, taciturn Eric (Guy Pearce) drifts through the barren outback in a haze. Then, one day, Henry (Scoot McNairy), Archie (David Field), and Caleb (Tawanda Manyimo) steal Eric's car while making a hasty getaway from a botched crime. In the process of fleeing, Henry abandons his wounded brother and partner Rey (Robert Pattinson) to die in the street. Eric vows to reclaim his vehicle by any means necessary, and forces Rey to help track down the men who left him for dead. The plot of The Rover is a simplistic one, and the fact that it's told with such sparse minimalism may lead some to believe that Michôd has nothing to say in his follow-up to the richly detailed and critically acclaimed Animal Kingdom. Whatever his screenplay lacks in terms of explicit dialogue or narrative complexity, however, it makes up for in subtle, reflective details and sun-scorched tension. And though even our determined protagonist is certainly no hero (a point made particularly early in the film), each weathered wrinkle on his leathery face and missing patch of hair from his battered scalp seems to tell the story of the suffering he's endured in that life-altering decade. Pearce uses this to his advantage, speaking sparingly in a way that makes every word meaningful. That makes for a particularly tense dynamic when contrasted against Pattinson's nervously chatty half-wit Rey, whose gradual story arc and telling character beats (it's suggested that he may be more damaged than dim) are both handled with more poise than some may expect from the actor, who's in the process of successfully shedding his sparkly image. Likewise, there's a fascinating parallel to be drawn between the character of Rey and the meaning of Eric's mission that gives the film an extra layer of depth. The specter of death looms heavily over all of the characters in The Rover, thanks not only to a cast who project an air of defeated desperation in every scene, but Michôd's talent in painting them against a backdrop seemingly incapable of sustaining any kind of life. From an early shot of Pearce's stoic Eric with a halo of flies to the final shot of a shovel breaking the rocky soil, Michôd makes this point undeniably clear. The problem, at least for those who aren't immediately drawn in by the powerful sense of atmosphere, is that despite the compelling George Milton/Lennie Small dynamic between Eric and Rey, the peripheral characters are drawn with broad strokes that give them little dimension. Michôd is a talented writer, but his gestures towards philosophical depth at the very end may feel more gimmicky than profound to those unwilling to immediately embrace the film's overwhelming (and some may say overbearing) misanthropy. True, Michôd makes some valid and compelling points about man's inhumanity to man throughout The Rover. But while his refusal to compromise is commendable in a world where rampant test marketing frequently robs films of any recognizable nuance or distinction, it leaves the creeping suspicion that, unlike the complex themes of circumstance and accountability in his feature debut Animal Kingdom, he just doesn't have much to say here other than the obvious. Then again, as Rey says at a crucial juncture in the story, "Not everything has to be about something." Perhaps if The Rover is about anything at all, it's up to the individual viewer to decide.
All Movie Guide - Jason Buchanan