The Rover (2014)

Ok, this was a weird one. Weird enough that a day after seeing it…I’m still not sure if ‘The Rover’ was a good movie. It certainly has some cool elements to it, and I can safely say that THIS is the flick that will go a long way to wash the stench of the bullshit ‘Twilight’ franchise off of Robert Pattinson. But I’m having trouble falling on one side of the ‘is it a good movie?’ fence or the other. It’s a pretty basic story, but the issues fall (largely) into the manner with which it’s put together. First off, The Story:
The opening Title Card tells us that we’re in Australia, ‘TEN YEARS AFTER THE COLLAPSE’. The Collapse of what, specifically, we’re not told. But in fairly short order, we’re given enough evidence to believe that it’s Society as a whole that’s fallen apart. Out in the desert, we meet ‘Eric’ (Guy Pearce). ‘Eric’ is a man who appears beat down. He’s tired, dirty and miserable…and only seems to have his car as his last significant possession. During his travels, he makes a stop in a dusty, desolate town to get a drink and rest. While he sits in the near-empty, ramshackle bar, three thieves literally come crashing into town. Believing that their truck is wrecked, they hurriedly steal the first vehicle they see…’Eric’s. Through sheer brute determination, ‘Eric’ gets the crooks vehicle running and takes off in pursuit. After a brief ‘cat n mouse’ game on the empty road, ‘Eric’ is knocked out and left in the dust… literally. After rousing himself, he makes his way to back to the town, where he encounters ‘Rey’ (Robert Pattinson). ‘Rey’ is the younger, simple-minded brother of the one American in the group of 3 thieves, ‘Henry’ (Scoot McNairy). It seems that this crew opted to take out a military unit for some self-serving purpose (not clearly revealed why). In the cross-fire, ‘Rey’ took a bullet to the stomach and was left behind as the others fled. Figuring this out, ‘Eric’ brazenly takes the wounded kid hostage and forces him to lead him to ‘Henry’. ‘Eric’ has it in mind to reclaim his mysteriously precious car and to put a few bullets into the assholes that took it. From there, it becomes an awkward road trip through the desert.
First off, despite the similar setting, this flick shares VERY little in common with that other Aussie post-apocalypse franchise ‘Mad Max’. There are no S+M crazed marauders, no funky battle vehicles or tribes of orphaned children here. Most of the settings are familiar, only more run down. We see mercenary-laden trains still running, meager businesses trying to earn a living, and largely empty and depressing motels scattered over the path that ‘Eric’ and ‘Rey’ take in their quest for payback.
As I mentioned earlier, this is a performance that Robert Pattinson should be proud off. He’s very convincing as an American “Half-wit”. I know that sentence can be seen as snarky and sarcastic, but the truth is, is that Pattinson brings an effective vulnerability to the character of ‘Rey’. He’s all nervous facial ticks, squinty, darting eyes and uneasy grins. He’s just trying to keep up with what’s going on around him and get back what’s his. But, despite his dimwit status, the guy can still be a force to be reckoned with when the chips are down. In a nutshell, I was surprised that the sparkly ‘Twilight’ douchebag could actually turn in a performance that could affect me in some way. So, props to him!
I like Guy Pearce and I feel that he brings a lot to all the characters that he plays. It’s just a shame that he’s given so little to work with here. The character of ‘Eric’ is given a VERY thin layer of ‘flesh’ and mostly just comes across as a gruff, angry motherfucker who’ll kill you if you get between him and his car. As the protagonist, he’s a hard one to root for…especially after the End Scene, where the reason for his desperate and violent search is revealed. Some will say it’s brilliant…some will say it sucks. Me…I’m right in the middle.
The pacing and presentation of ‘The Rover’ reminded me very much of another dreary and bleak Australian flick, coincidentally also starring Guy Pearce. ‘The Proposition’ (2005) had long, quiet scenes that took their time to play out, often resulting in sequences of sudden bloody violence. THIS one is VERY similar. Long, ‘static’ shots are routinely used and more than once, the filmmakers would use an unsettling juxtaposition of image and music to keep the situations unnervingly dynamic.
Speaking of Music, the score for this one goes for a contemplative and, at times, grating tone that, more often than not, worked in the films favor.
One of the main issues that I had with this film (questionable ending aside), was that there was really no one to root for. I find it amusing that, in rather quick succession, I find myself reviewing another film in which the main characters are thoroughly unlikeable…the other having recently been ‘Fury’ (2014). We’re never given enough info on ‘Eric’ to sympathize with his plight, and to forgive him whenever he does something awful to someone in the pursuit of his goal. Granted, most of the people he does harm are scum (pimps, murderers, rogue soldiers, midgets etc), but we never see him interact with someone in a positive way, a way that shows any of his ‘soul’. Even the doctor that helps them out of a jam ends up being terrorized by ‘Eric’, despite all that she had done for them. The closest thing we get to an actual human ‘connection’ is his condescending and manipulative dealings with ‘Rey’ as they travel toward his brother’s hideout, but even then, we’re still largely reminded that the younger man is merely a pawn to be used to achieve what ‘Eric’ feels he needs to achieve…regardless of the tragic consequences.
Another problem with ‘The Rover’ is that the script definitely could’ve used a polish and a ‘tightening’. Many connections in the story are handled too loosely for their own good and don’t gel together into a concise narrative. Basically, at times, it felt like the artistic veneer was pulled over the story to distract from the deficiencies of the script. It felt lazy and unfocused at times.
All in all, ‘The Rover’ is a curious entry into the ‘post-apocalyptic survival’ genre; one that has some cool, ambitious ideas and inspired visuals, backed by a great performance from Robert Pattinson and a good one from Guy Pearce. It’s just too bad that there is VERY little ‘humanity’ on display and not enough polish on the script. It’s also pretty depressing, which you should prepare yourself for. I received the ‘Why did we have to watch THIS one?’ treatment from my normally easy going girlfriend when the final credits rolled…just to give you an idea. Certainly not a BAD movie, but definitely NOT a perfect one. The potential for something great was there…just not exploited.

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