The Rover begins with thirty minutes of riveting nihilism, ends with ten minutes of uncomfortable humility, and connects the two with sixty minutes of cliches, obviousness, and desperation.
Directed by David Michôd, the man responsible for 2010’s Australian gangster, sleeper, masterpiece Animal Kingdom, The Rover takes place in the lawless Outback years after the “financial collapse,” and follows Guy Pearce on a mission to retrieve his stolen automobile. Along the way he teams up with Robert Pattinson, the slow brother of the man who stole it, and you guessed it, the two begin to learn about each other and how they came to this particular moment in their lives.
Michôd has a lot of fun with his world in the beginning, and executes a captivating set-up based solely off the simple motivation of a man trying to get his car back, complete with shocking displays of graphic violence, sparse dialogue (save for one ingenious exchange of non sequitur), amplified, crystal-clear sound effects (the kind that always seem to become the center of attention amid films featuring excessive heat and futility), and frame-filling anamorphic cinematography that makes cinephiles drool. But the trade-off for this indulgence is that somewhere during the second act the other shoe needs to drop, and it never does. Michôd is content to fall into the trap of repeating the same soft/loud cycles of punctuating reflective moments with more unexpected violence, and trotting out well-worn themes like redemption at the hands of the meek and lame, as he believes himself safe in the world of archetypes, and wastes time that could have been spent making the story fuller and richer.
Robert Pattinson is good, with certainly much more to chew on than Pearce, but there are times when he oversells his twitchy half-wit, and trapped in a film that loves to call attention to itself, his performance ultimately becomes more of a burden than an asset. The true gem of this film lies in Antony Partos’s immersive score which is constantly pushing against Michôd’s comfort zone with its atonal, nearly avant-garde jazz flourishes and occasional bursts of melody that for awhile reminded me of what Colin Stetson accomplished with Blue Caprice. If there is a consistent pull of anarchy in The Rover it lies in the soundtrack.
By the end of the film I didn’t care about these characters one bit, and at the point when I realized I wasn’t going to get anything more substantive than the same old FTW misanthropy (save God’s small creatures) I started getting pissed off at the little narrative flaws, like if you got the upper hand on someone chasing you down, why would you just knock them out and throw their car keys on the ground next to them? Or why, if you are close enough to hear gunshots, would you ignore the first few, and only come running a few minutes later when it became an all-out shootout? And why, Michôd, do you intentionally skip over parts of the story that I wanted answers to? All these things could be forgiven if they were in aid of a truly transcendent ending, but instead The Rover builds to a final moment that is strangely both crowd-pleasing AND bleak, and no matter how you choose to look at it, it’s hard to muster much more than a cool detachment at what he accomplished.
The Verdict: Pan