David Michôd’s The Rover is set “ten years after the collapse,” and though context reveals little, it’s clear that the collapse was a collapse of everything—food, shelter, economy, government, and reasonable expectations of police protection. The human landscape depicted in The Rover is as bleak as the desert in which it takes place.
In this Australian landscape is Eric (Guy Pearce), a taciturn man whose face looks haunted. By what isn’t certain, but when we first see him sitting in his car, gnats buzzing around his face, we know he’s beaten down. By life. By the collapse. By whatever.
He enters a makeshift bar and helps himself to a drink. Moments later, we’re in a vehicle with three criminals hightailing it away from a shootout. Henry (Scoot McNairy) is shouting, blood streaming from a bullet wound in his leg. “My brother!” he screams.
That brother, Rey (Robert Pattinson), has been left for dead by the trio. Henry, in his anger and rage, lashes out at his cohort Archie (David Field) in the backseat, and before long their vehicle overturns and flies by the bar where Eric drinks. The criminals pull themselves together, break into Eric’s car, and the commotion causes Eric to investigate. When he sees the men driving off, he hastily gets their vehicle back into working condition and follows.
Eric nearly overtakes them, and slows down as Archie points a gun at him. When they realize Eric won’t quit, they stop. Eric approaches, demands his car’s return, and as he’s about to turn Archie into Swiss cheese, Henry whacks him over the head with a shotgun. Like Rey, they leave Eric for dead.
Mistake. If you’ve seen the trailer, you know Eric is a man with nothing to lose, and he makes no pretense of being anything but desperate, and if need be, violent. By chance Eric crosses paths with Rey, and they form an uneasy alliance to find Henry and the others.
Coincidences aside, none of The Rover works without Pearce. To have an antihero as a film’s center requires an actor with great skill and the ability to engage the audience while performing horrible transgressions on other people. The first time he kills on screen, it’s so shocking, unexpected, and terrifically violent, you’ll be glad someone like Pearce is playing him. (See also The Proposition.)
Part of Pearce’s appeal is his handsome angular face and the way his eyes can convey every emotion while he says little. The other great performance in The Rover is by Pattinson (really!). Rey is an ignorant, nervous, twitchy dum-dum, and Pattinson plays him to the hilt without overdoing it. Rey also provides two welcome moments of comic relief in a movie that needs a dose of humor.
Even in The Rover’s darkest moments, there are pieces of
humanity in Eric and Rey that keep them from becoming the worst of the worst,
like Henry and his cohorts. And in the final scene, after Eric has retrieved
his car, after all the killing and blood and ruminations on existential crises,
there’s a decidedly human moment of heartbreak and loss that may just tug at
Directed by David Michôd
With Pearce, Pattinson, and McNairy
UA DeVargas 6