By NATHAN LERNER
For 21st Century Media
The Australian flick, “The Rover,” offers a grim perspective on a post-Apocalyptic future. However, the dystopian circumstances are a mere backdrop for what turns out to be a character-driven crime drama.
We meet Eric (Guy Pearce) as he sits in his car, lost in silent contemplation. He’s parked outside a ramshackle roadside tavern somewhere in the remote outback. Eventually, the laconic loner enters the bar. It’s occupied by a scant handful of disengaged patrons listening to Japanese karaoke music.
Meanwhile, a trio of armed roughnecks is fleeing down the road in a souped up truck. Caleb (Tawanda Maryimo), a young, dreadlocked New Zealander is driving. Henry (Scoot McNairy) a volatile American, is sprawled out in the passenger seat, bleeding profusely from a gunshot wound. He is exchanging barbs with Archie (David Field), a significantly older man, who is sitting in the back seat. We don’t know the exactly what precipitated the shooting, who the men are trying to elude, or, what led to their dissension. Is a botched robbery involved?
The squabbling between Henry and Archie escalates into fisticuffs. Caught in between their wild exchange of punches, Caleb runs off the road and crashes the truck outside of the bar. Archie jumps out of the vehicle and hot wires Eric’s empty sedan. The three men speed away in the purloined vehicle. As they do, Eric comes rushing out of the bar.
Eric somehow resurrects the abandoned truck and speeds off in hot pursuit. Even when the carnappers brandish their weapons, Eric remains irrationally undaunted.
Eventually, the three men pull over for a little chat with Eric. Though unarmed, he insists that the men return his car. Eric’s demand is greeted with the butt end of a rifle to the back of his head.
Still undeterred, Eric remains intent upon recovering his stolen sedan. He acquires a handgun in an unconventional manner that epitomizes the ubiquity of the film’s random violence.
Eric encounters Rey (Robert Pattinson-yes that Robert Pattison), who is seriously wounded and near death. By happenstance, he turns out to be the younger brother of Eric’s nemesis, Henry. He was apparently abandoned by his colleagues after the shoot out. Eric is a mentally enfeebled half-wit with a nervous twitch and a speech impediment. At gunpoint, Eric forces Rey to lead him to where the trio is holed up.
Guy Pearce captures the soul of his taciturn, alienated character. Despite the film’s deliberately slow pacing, the viewer remains captivated by his performance, one of controlled rage and implacable determination.
Shorn of his distinctively luxuriant shock of hair and sporting rotten teeth, Robert Pattison is a far cry from the dreamy heartthrob of “Twilight” fame. The actor has struggled mightily to escape stereotyping. His various choices, as a distractingly moustachioed Salvador Dali in “Little Ashes,” an adulterous animal trainer in “Water for Elephants,” and a limousine-borne executive in David Cronenberg’s “Cosmopolis,” all proved unfortunate. Pattison’s deglamorized appearance and competent acting in this film may help him to finally be taken seriously.
Vividly drawn tertiary and quaternary characters add considerable texture to “The Rover.” This array includes an irascible store owner; a spinster, who tries to pimp out her pre-pubescent grandson; a feisty dwarf; a kind-hearted physician; an indifferent policeman; a codger with a hangdog expression; and a bunch of vigilantes from an inactive circus troupe.
Written and helmed by David Michôd, this film is the follow-up to his extremely impressive 2010 directorial debut, “Animal Kingdom.” That film, about a Melbourne family of petty criminals, garnered eight Australian Film Institute Awards. “The Rover” arises from a story conceived by actor, Joel Edgerton, who co-starred in the aforementioned “Animal Kingdom.” As fleshed out in Michôd’s imaginative screenplay, the characters and storyline are compelling. He consciously avoids specifying what caused the global demise of Society and vaguely refers to it as the collapse.
The oppressive heat and parched desolation of the Flinders Ranges area of the South Australian outback set a tone of otherworldly detachment. The stark lensing by Natasha Braier provides an arresting visual text. Composer, Antony Partos, and sound designer, Sam Petty, have collaborated on producing an inspired aural experience. Rather than a full-scale score, they opt for a minimalistic amalgam of intermittent musical notes and ambient sounds. It proves a perfect complement to the film’s spare dialogue and air of uncertainty. The use of Keri Hilson’s poppy tune, “Pretty Girl Rock,” late in the film, provides an ironic upbeat touch.
“The Rover” is extremely well-crafted, emotionally gripping, and dramatically satisfying. The result is another stunning tour de force by a talented young director.
***1/2 R (for language and some bloody violence) 102 minutes
Nathan Lerner welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.