The Rover (2014)
★★ / ★★★★
Stained with bleakness gray, desert-dry yellow, desaturated dirt and grime, “The Rover,” directed by David Michôd, is a picture that is clearly made with a vision. It is to be admired in parts for two reasons: its visual presentation of rural Australia after an economic collapse and the performances by its two lead actors. But the film is a disappointment in that it fails to engage in the long haul. We want to get to know it, but it does not let us in such a way that by the end of the experience, we feel as unwashed and emotionally drained as the characters look and feel.
The story begins with three men (Scoot McNairy, Tawanda Manyimo, David Field) stealing another man’s car after they get into an accident. Eric (Guy Pearce), sitting in a bar while the trio break into his vehicle, would not have anybody stealing from him and so he uses the thieves’ transport—still functional after an unbelievable acrobatics—to go after them. The sequence that transpires on the road has an ironic sense of humor about it that discerning viewers will likely suspect that it is building up to something.
Robert Pattinson steals the film because he delivers an odd, magnetic, and at times sensitive performance. He plays one of the brothers of the car thieves and we meet Rey with a bullet in his midsection. Pattinson has a way of acting in a scene with dead blank eyes and yet it is not boring. It is because everything else is interesting: his posture, the awkward way he moves, the tension in his lips, the way he strings words together. The predictable thing to have done was to play the character tough and unstable. He takes the unstable part and twists it in such a way that we become interested in learning who he is despite the screenplay not giving much.
And therein lies the problem: The screenplay by Michôd is so inaccessible or deliberately opaque at times that the story ends up not having a defined shape. While it is a positive quality that we get the impression that just about anything can happen, especially with its tendency to erupt into quick bursts of violence, it is difficult to care about what might transpire. I caught myself being along for the ride, admiring a handful of its technical achievements, such as the score and choice of soundtrack, but I was disconnected from its core.
The picture is highlighted by several seconds of brilliance. Several examples include a vulture observing a man waking up from unconsciousness, a young girl bleeding from being shot through the chest, and a confession that takes place at an Army base. There is not enough connective tissue in the material to underscore these memorable seconds and unify them into a theme.
“The Rover” is not about entertainment but about texture. Notice the people we meet, how famished and desperate they appear. Look at the desolate environment. Just about every place Eric and Rey visit appear as though a riot or pillaging had taken place there at one time or another. We notice the dirt on their clothes, limbs, and faces. The hunger in their eyes or revenge. On the basis of style and mood, at least it delivers.