Life and Death in the Stoic Australian Wasteland
Stories of life after the apocalypse are as common as hipsters at an Arcade Fire concert. Every year, approximately 70,000 tales of irradiated wastelands, nuclear disasters and humanity’s survivors get written (source: my own brain). There’s no shortage of speculation on how our inevitable end will come. The separator is how the story is told. Fresh off of his critically acclaimed Animal Kingdom, director David Michod paints the end of civilized life as we know it with a patient brush. Slow, brooding and intense, The Rover adds another welcome branch to the genre’s ever expanding tree.
In near future Australia, a worldwide economic collapse has left the population desperate for basic life necessities. Crime is rampant and after a bank robbery gone wrong, Rey (Robert Pattinson) is left behind by his fellow bandits for dead. The remaining three escape and after flipping their getaway truck, make off with a faster car. Unfortunately for them, it belongs to Eric (Guy Pearce), a mysterious loner making his way through the wasteland. While going after the missing vehicle, he comes across young Rey and the two go off to find the thieves: one looking for answers on why he was left behind and the other in pursuit of what’s rightfully his.
Channeling Clint Eastwood from The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, Pearce is stoic and methodical in the way he approaches the role of an unreliable hero. The character of Eric is not an easy one to root for, but Pearce gives it just enough empathy to keep us engaged in his journey. On the other side is Robert Pattinson, an actor who looks to be revitalizing his career McConaughey style, is very solid as the robber left behind. Portraying someone who is a bit “slow” is a difficult tightrope, but Pattinson mostly nails it, bringing vulnerability to another complex character. He still has a bit to learn about maintaining stillness on screen and over-emoting, but it’s a far cry from his Twilight days. Couple this with a very strong turn in Cosmopolis, and you have an actor well on his way to career recovery.
Adept at creating tension and intrigue from quiet moments, Michod’s direction is methodical and careful. The pacing is long, slow and drawn out, but like Animal Kingdom, the deliberate pace makes the sudden violence pack an even larger punch. The setting of an impoverished Australia gives off a Mad Max vibe and is a refreshing departure from the usual run of apocalyptic wastelands.
The Rover may not be for everybody. The pacing is glacial, the characters don’t speak much and there are long stretches of not too much going on. However, for those who like their end of the world more The Road than Independence Day, you’ll find a subtle film of hidden wonders. With intense performances, patient camerawork and an uneasy sense of dread hovering over the dry plains of Australia, The Rover is another excellent offering from an incredible up and coming director.
Score: 8.5 out of 10