The Rover (2014) Review
I didn’t know anything about this movie, except that it was directed by the same guy who did Animal Kingdom (which I hadn’t seen), so it was the intriguingly tense and well-cut trailer that first pulled me in. Its visuals gave me a sense of stoic violence and poetic dialogue, and for the most part this was the movie—unfortunately, for all its potential, a few things held it back from greatness.
The basic plot is that a man relentlessly pursues some men with guns who stole his car. Through this framework, the director explores an Australia in the imagined-not-so-distant-future whose economy has collapsed, its gun-toting inhabitants trapped in a world of fear and endless cyclical violence. The production reflects this landscape in a gritty, real way, without any of the shiny computer-animated world-building shots you might expect from a major studio-driven post-apocalyptic movie. The story is intimate and closed off in the midst of a sprawling, empty landscape.
The cinematography conveys all of this fantastically. The saturated yellows bear down on you with heat, the compositions are eye-catching and not obvious. But between here and editing is where it starts to fall apart. Because the film lingers for far too long on those compositions, slowing the pace to a grinding halt throughout the entire film. Now, I understand as well as the next filmmaker that the slow pace serves as a reflection of the state of the environment and the meditative interiors of the “deep” characters…but there’s a certain point where it gets in the way, where it stops serving the storytelling and starts serving the director’s idea of the story. In essence, there is too little story happening to afford that kind of pace. No Country For Old Men, this isn’t.
Besides the pacing, my other problem was how the director poured over close-ups of his collection of dirty, grizzled men, as if to say, “Look at these muscular, bearded dudes, see how angry they are, how sweaty and hard as nails,” which stops being impressive about halfway through. There is a grand total of two women in the film, one owning a whorehouse, the other a hospital, both minor characters, both defenseless against angry men with guns.
Finally, I should say that Guy Pearce did a surprisingly tremendous job with his character. We don’t get a lot of information about him for the majority of the runtime, so it takes a great actor to convey such depth and intensity so consistently well. I cannot say the same for Robert Pattinson. The Twilight star, who said in a press conference for Cosmopolis that he doesn’t think actors should prepare for any role (to the collective groan of actors everywhere), puts his philosophy on full display. He’s so confused about who he’s playing that 1) his accent is inconsistent and poorly conceived, and 2) you can’t tell what he’s trying to get across from scene to scene. His character is meant to be innocent, childlike, but surprisingly adapted to this world. For Pattinson this translates to a lot of over-acting in the face, constant twitching motion and emotion mixed with puppy-dog eyes, a completely unbelievable and exaggerated characterization in an otherwise real environment.
In sum, if you choose to see this, you’ll likely be surprised at the execution of some elements (the tension and action are very well-handled when they do spring up!), and disappointed by others. And while it gets its point across, that a loss of innocence propels cyclical violence, I’m not sure that I can’t say this movie exploits that theme in an unsatisfyingly shallow way. Still, I commend its independent spirit.