The Rover (2014)
Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed David Michôd’s antipodean crime debut Animal Kingdom which came out a few years ago I must confess to entering his sophomore effort The Rover with a twin twinge of apprehension, firstly due to its largely indifferent response from the Cannes glitterati, the second due to some rather irritating remarks I heard him make on Radio 4’s The Film Programme this week. I’ll summarise for the sake of brevity but he was bemoaning the state of current American cinema and ‘all films being made for corporate conglomerates’ (accurate to a certain point, but an identical compliant has been reverberating for the past, what, thirty to forty years?) and crucially how friends of his would call him and ask to see the latest Avengers movie and he responded with the huffy remark ‘No, I only see films made for adults’. Hmm, well, I can’t say I’ve never cleaved to such elitist and rather patronising views myself but I think there is space for both serious and flippant products in the marketplace, for sure the scales are heavily tipped in favour of the safe sanitized franchise formula but it was ever thus since the Republic Serial Days (and before) and this does not preclude fascinating work being made in both the mainstream and independent arenas, if you’re willing and committed to rooting them out. It’s this rather self-important and haughty spirit which plagues his new post-apocalyptic movie The Rover, an occasionally stirring and sizzling desert baked yarn following the unspecified ‘fall’ of society into chaos and anarchy, one fears that the praise has gone to his head as this is a confused and unfocused film which is far more frustrating than any Tinseltown frivolity.
Robert Pattinson seems to be catching all the sun he can since his tweenghast franchise blessedly expired, he plays Rey, an incomprehensibly accented & slow-witted soul who is abandoned by his brother Henry (Scoot McNairy) and his two partners Archie (
Larry David David Field) and Caleb (Tawanda Manyimo) following an off-screen shootout with the tarnished forces of authority. Frantic to evade any repercussions the trio car-jack the vehicle of inscrutable loner Eric (Guy Pearce) which sets the vengeance driven plot in motion, chasing them with the relentless force of a bearded Anton Chigurh his path crosses the injured Rey whom he takes as hostage in order to locate and retrieve his mysteriously precious property. Along the road we bear witness to an exhausted and indifferent world on the brink of extinction, morals and civilisation abandoned in the face of sheer survival, a genre mirror of blasted outback landscapes and decrepit outposts shimmering in decadent disease.
On fly-trap paper I can’t imagine a movie more suited to the Menagerie wheelhouse – an uncompromising post-apocalyptic fable which oozes Cormac McCarthy and Steinbeck severity, a sour poetic parable which aims to maim some dark paths of the human animal. Although Michôd seizes upon these cultural tropes with a rabid-dog intensity he mulches a dog’s dinner of metaphor and allusion to some wider truths of men and their morals adrift of the tempering template of civilisation, like wading through mud The Rover lacks both interest and involvement. I have nothing against Pattinson and admire his decisions to work with some more interesting directors, but he is incomprehensible in the film and I felt nothing for him nor his bizarre shift in allegiances. Pearce fares better as the nuclear brooding protagonist whose past is chiselled in small exposition moments, his brutal campaign however turns so indiscriminatingly violent that the pay-off to his propulsion needs to work and it doesn’t. I did like some elements of weary world building, rather than society disintegrating into post-punk leather fetish garb replete with spiked iridescent hairstyles and wrist mounted crossbows The Rover presents a world of shabby unkempt beards, dust choked cargo pants, sweat drenched t-shirts, flip-flops and firearms. There are hints of a Chinese superpower plundering the wreckage of society but nothing is explicitly explained, as the grim realties of this deeply depressing world are shattered in indiscriminate violence and suffering, as characters stare bleakly off into the distance as the overwrought and intrusive score by Antony Partos rubs the audiences nose in the mess and barks Just How Important And Serious This All Is.
There is of course one genre classic that one can’t help roar into mind when one considers a post-holocaust Australian outback teeming with scavenging vagabonds and land locked pirates, and while the spectre of an absolutely incandescent Max hangs over The Rover this is quite a different beast, urging its viewers to fill in the narrative gaps – What caused the collapse? What remains of civilisation and why is being exiled to Sydney so bad? I don’t wish to compare the two as that is completely unfair, the film is obviously yearning for some sort of deeper poetic impact, but unfortunately Michôd’s metaphoric reach extends his grasp as the ill-defined and half-baked plot moves from drained sequence to sequence, all fire and fury signifying nothing. He is more concerned with these brooding men and their moral decrepitude without illuminating any notions of interest or instruction, like the increasingly indifferent and fidgety audience I caught this with I honestly couldn’t wait for it to end. There are mild skidmark traces of the masculine fascination he raised in Animal Kingdom, of tribal possessions and property propensity fuelled by a testosterone mandate, with a slight hint that perhaps these unconscious social drives are the constructs which ultimately plunged the world into this deeply fucked up resolution. But when the final mystery is revealed the instinct is to groan rather than bark in appreciation, like the man says in The Rover the world ends with a whimper, not a bang;