Review by Daniel Rester
What is the emotional cost of killing a man? Or a child? Or an animal? Or even family? Australian writer-director David Michod asks such questions with The Rover, working from a story that he and actor Joel Edgerton concocted. With Rover being the sophomore effort of Michod, following his terrific Animal Kingdom (2010), he continues to show promise as a bold filmmaker.
Rover takes place in Australia ten years after a global economic collapse. A loner named Eric (Guy Pearce) sets out to find three men who stole his car, a possession that means more to him than the average person because of certain reasons. Along the way he picks up Rey (Robert Pattinson), an injured and simpleminded American who happens to be a brother of one of the thieves; the brother is named Henry, played here by character actor Scoot McNairy.
With Rover, Michod seems less interested in story and more interested in the theme of death and the heavy atmosphere that surrounds such a theme. In this way I find Michod’s writing to be a mixed bag. The story is passable but almost too simple given the premise and runtime, making for a slow burn when it comes to pacing the story out. There are some missed opportunities here in that Michod never fully explores his “global collapse” or offers us anything in terms of futuristic settings or props. His characters could also have used an extra layer or two development-wise.
Despite the few issues I had with some of the writing, Michod still succeeds with some of his other writing and especially with his directing. Though the story as a whole is basic, the filmmaker offers some excellent vignettes along the way in exploring his primary themes and characters. One moment involving a dialogue exchange between Eric and a soldier (played by Anthony Hayes) is just amazing, while another moment involving Rey and a pop song is amusing. Such scenes, along with the overall exploration of the unusual bond between Eric and Rey, keeps Michod’s storytelling riveting.
As a director of images and acting, Michod shines even more. With the aid of cinematographer Natasha Braier, Michod offers up a bleak and tense atmosphere from beginning to end. Rover is filled with beautiful, still wide shots of landscapes. It also delivers slow, smooth tracking shots that help build suspense. Such control and confidence behind the frames is admirable.
The music by Antony Partos also helps Michod’s vision. Some of the percussion choices are overbearing and distracting at times, but Partos provides an interesting variety of music for the most part. Some of the dissonant sounds really help with the tension; it reminded me in ways of Jonny Greenwood’s work on Paul Thomas Anderson’s films.
Though Michod is a true talent behind the camera, it’s the performances he gets out of Pearce and Pattinson that really keep Rover alive and intriguing. The underrated Pearce gives another knockout performance as Eric, a quietly intense man with secrets and seemingly nothing left to lose; Pearce effortlessly disappears into this persona. Pattinson is just as good as Rey. He really shows his acting chops in the role, proving to the haters that he can be more than just a boring, sparkling vampire in films. He is believable all the way as Rey, from the vocal changes to the nuanced facial expressions; this is great work by the actor.
The actors and characters surrounding Pearce and Pattinson are a bit more of a mix. Michod certainly picked the right faces for his vision of collapse, but none of the supporting characters are ever really interesting. The always-watchable McNairy is excellent as Henry, but his character is mostly one-note and the motivations behind he and his gang are vague. And then we get some odd, dirty characters that don’t add much at all; this includes a strange scene with an old woman that feels out of place.
The minimal storytelling and slow pace in Rover will turn many viewers off, but I still found the film to be successful on a whole. The ending is more questionable, though, with a reveal that makes sense and is frustrating all at once. Still, the exploration of death and its consequences, the rich atmosphere, and the two standout performances make Rover a strong second effort from Michod. I look forward to whatever he cooks up next.
Score: 3 out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: B+).
MPAA Rating: R (for language and some bloody violence).
Runtime: 1 hour and 43 minutes.
U.S. Release Date: June 13th, 2014 (limited); June 20th, 2014 (expanded).