dir: David Michod
Wow. I’ve seen some grim movies in my time, and even this week, but this out-grims them all.
Well, maybe not all of them. It’d have to go a long way to out-grim The Road, Stalingrad, or Tinkerbell and The Pirate Fairy, but it’s certainly up there.
The funniest thing for me, if there is indeed anything I can say is funny in a flick so grim, is that the setting is kind of a post-apocalyptic one. And while the behaviour of the people in this scenario is certainly post-apocalyptic behaviour, visually it is indistinguishable from what the more sparse parts of Australia look like all the time.
In other words, my fellow Australians, we’re living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and we didn’t even notice.
The opening title card informs us that what we are about to see / experience / endure is set in a time ten years after “The Collapse”. We never really find out what that was, but what it means is that people are very dirty, Australian currency is ill-favoured compared to American dollars, there are Chinese people everywhere, and civilisation has broken down.
How can we tell? Well, everyone has guns and everyone’s shooting everyone else with pretty much nil repercussions.
In other words, not only is this horrible post-Fall setting the same as contemporary Australia, it’s ported over the current gun-loving ways of the contemporary States as well. The irony of it: a horrible imagined future in many ways identical to the present.
I know this is called The Rover, but I’m not entirely sure who the Rover of the title is. If it’s anyone, it’s the grim (there’s that word again) character played by Guy Pearce, but I’m not entirely sure in which way he is a rover. Does he go roving about in any way different from anyone else? Presumably the people that stay in one place (whether before or after they’re killed) aren’t rovers, in that they don’t go roving about, but then is anyone who drives around roving, or a rover?
The main guy looks like a grim broken man, and it’s not just his haircut, which looks like a mental hospital special. It’s also his dad shorts, the haunted look in his eyes, and the fact like he talks as if there’s barbed wire in his throat, and each additional word causes him more pain.
He has, as far as we can tell, one possession in this horrible Outback world: a car, a very dusty Holden. Some crims barrel along, crash their 4WD due to stupidity, and steal the protagonist’s car. He really wants his car back, so he spends the rest of the flick trying to get the car back. Along the way he meets lots of people, and shoots most of them.
This is not a man who gives a fuck anymore. We sense that most people, due to the referred-to Collapse, have had a change in their circumstances as well, but this isn’t a world filled with radioactive zombies or cannibalistic mutants. There are just different degrees of callousness and wariness, and different people chug along with their own approach to this brave new world.
The protagonist doesn’t care. He just wants his car back. When asked why, he just grimly repeats “I want my car back”, with the same level or lack of inflection as the first time he said it.
But the crims don’t want to give it back. It’s a great advertisement for Holden, naturally, in that a bunch of guys will do anything to get this Holden, and one man will literally kill everyone in his path in order to get back his Holden.
Holden: Cars Worth Killing For.
The declining fortunes of the automaker could be reversed with just that ad line.
The crims left one thing behind after they committed a crime we didn’t see, but which involved killing Army guys. There’s no police force any more, there’s just the rabble and the Army. This Army looks more like the American Army, but at least it’s populated by Australian thugs, boy howdy.
They die like everyone else, though, despite their body armour. The ‘thing’ the crims left behind was one of their number, Rey (Robert Pattinson), who is brother to one of the crims. Gut shot, and referred to as a mental defective, Rey is a curious cat to say the least.
Teenage girls the world over know Robert Pattinson from those utterly terrible Twilight Saga movies. They’re sooooo fucking terrible I find it inexplicable that anyone hires him for anything. That being said he’s perfect in this role as a mental defective. Who’d have guessed he could play a retard so adeptly?
All the tics and annoying affectations Robert Pattinson uses in his every other irritating role he uses here as well, but they work fine for the character. Is it an achievement when a lunkhead plays a lunkhead, because it’s almost an abdication of ego, of one’s perceived opinion of themselves? Well, maybe it is, but really he’s not playing this character that different from any other. He’s only dressed down and with ugly dentures. That’s the stuff of Oscar nominations, isn’t it?
Rey is a curious character. He’s referred to by the crims as being helpless and stupid, and he certainly seems to be quite fearful. But Rey doesn’t really seem that much dumber than any other American in this movie. He may have a bit of a speech impediment, and chats inappropriately regardless of his audience (and regardless of how murderously that audience, being the main character, glares at him when he chats too much). But he’s something of an innocent in this harsh world, at least he was at the start.
Who knows what drew these Americans to Australia in the first place post-Collapse. Was it mining riches? Let’s face it, what else would Australia have that any other country would want? Actors and the products of mining are pretty much all we export to the world. Brown coal, Hemsworths, iron ore and Jackmans is about all we can manage.
Whatever drew these Americans here, crime proved too tempting, and for them the world will become even grimmer. Can you even label actions as ‘crimes’ when social order has fallen apart? The Rover doesn’t answer this conclusively, because while it seems like anything can happen without repercussions, it still plays with the notion that there are things people should, must feel guilty about.
We find out why the protagonist is so embittered with the world, and why he can so casually kill a whole bunch of people, and it’s because he hasn’t been punished yet for stuff he feels there should be a punishment for. He’s sacrificed or lost his humanity, and there’s practically nothing he can do to get any of it back. Rey is an irritant to him, and a means to an end, but he sees some glimmer of a simpler humanity that he himself long ago said goodbye to.
When he looks after Rey, it’s purely for selfish reasons, but the ‘simple’ Rey doesn’t see that, he just sees that someone looked after him, and so he must attach himself to his new master. It’s a tragic dog-like loyalty, and dogs play a strange role in this flick, a very strange role indeed.
Pearce’s performance is phenomenal, truly is. If he won any awards for this performance he deserved them, and if he didn’t he should have. His take on this well-worn kind of role that we’ve seen a million times before isn’t exactly fresh, but it’s lived in, and real. He really seemed like someone who’s gone too far over the edge to ever come back, but at least he has enough humanity left to know what he’s lost.
The setting is king, and what a horrible setting it is. Australia’s outback, its shitty towns and dusty landscape, all of which exist right now and will exist thousands of years from now, matches the grimness of what transpires in this story. The score is a hypnotic dirge which weaves its way through, but doesn’t comfort, maintaining the tension. The way Australian society crumbles is sadly believable.
I want to single out one particular scene, which occurs early on. While on his Mad Max-like rampage, the protagonist arrives at a place, a certain place. I’m not sure what that place was: general store, brothel, drug den? There seem to be a lot of Chinese guys laying about, not just here but elsewhere. He confronts a lady who either works there or owns the place, and she offers him a smooth skinned boy for his troubles.
That’s not the part that stuck out. It was the oddness of her performance, which though perfect for the scene, reasonably perturbs the protagonist, and me, for that matter. He asks her if she’s seen his car with the three guys in it. She keeps asking his name, which he refuses. Mind you, he’s just committed an awful crime for no good reason, and we know he is more than capable of killing people whether justified or not. He keeps insisting that she tell him about his car and its occupants.
She seems to be going on a tangent, but says if he’d like that she could tell him all about the men, what they were like, what they ate and drank, what they talked about, where they were going. When he insists that she tell him everything, she reminds him that she doesn’t know any of that, because, as she said, she never saw these men or the car.
Exasperated, he points his gun at her, and she says “Now that’s just rude.”
It’s enough for that chastisement to shame him to tears. It was an amazing, odd scene. There are plenty of them. The camerawork lingers over these people, giving them room to breath, room for their characters to breath. Scenes build tension not with over-editing, as with many incompetent flicks, but by letting them play out, seeing where they’re going to go. With Pattinson’s scenes, the effect is surreal, as his cycle of tics and spasms goes around full circle multiple times, just before he does something sad and terrible.
If I have a criticism of the flick, and I have three, it’s that the ending doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense. Since getting his car back is the protagonist’s be all and end all, I’m not sure I understand the motivation of the final climactic confrontation. Sure, it means the end is ‘tidy’, from a certain perspective, but it’s not like it makes a lot of dramatic sense. Also, something that happens at the beginning, during his first confrontation with the crims, obviously it’s what allows the story to keep going forward, but trying to strangle a guy holding a gun doesn’t make a lot of sense, nor does their non-reaction afterwards.
There’s also a scene where Rey is singing in the car alone, and I’m not sure that really worked. I hated it, let’s be honest, even as I understand why it was there. It’s a bit of a painful stunt, and cutting it out would have had no discernable impact on the film.
And when you find out why the car was so important to him right at the end, well, you might just shoot someone in the head out of frustration.
There is much violence throughout this flick, be prepared. This is hardly a tourism advert for South Australia, where it was filmed around the Flinders Ranges, and is not really an uplifting experience. It is a very solid follow-up to the director’s feature debut, being Animal Kingdom, which was a very different flick, but one that showcased a similar command of the medium, and the director’s style. It’s definitely one of the strongest Australian flicks I’ve seen this year.
The Rover shows us what Australians would be like if they were more like Americans. Let’s pray it never comes to that.
8 times Guy Pearce goes to some very dark places in The Rover out of 10
“You should never stop thinking about a life you've taken. That's the price you pay for taking it.” – and yet you’ve taken so, so many, champ – The Rover.