Overall, this summer has been an absolute adrenaline blast. Massive battles, snarky humor, and uplifting endings as far as the eye can see. However, in the middle of it all, sandwiched between giant dragons, and giant robots, is The Rover, a bleak post apocalyptic excursion into the darkness of humanity. Certainly a change of pace from the likes of Wolverine and Tom Cruise.
The Rover takes place in Australia 10 years after a mass economic collapse has sent the world back to the stone age. We find Eric (Guy Pearce) sitting at a bar having a drink when a group of bandits steals his car after they horrifically crash their own. Thus begins an epic trek to retrieve his only possession, with the help of the simple minded Rey (Robert Pattinson), the brother of one of the thieves who was left for dead out in the wilderness.
Through and through, this is a filmmaker’s movie. Director David Michod has some masterful techniques on display here as he tells his atmospheric, horrific story without the slightest hint of compromise. Essentially, it’s a western for the post-technology age. However, because of this utter commitment to his own style, the movie does never transcends simply being a good film on an intellectual level. There’s so much to love here, but ultimately, it comes off as very hallow.
Stylistically, this movie is something to behold. Michod’s Australia exudes hellish energy with it’s sand ridden palate, ragged inhabitants, and rustic architecture. Everything feels desolate, and foreboding. This setting melds very well with the simplistic, western-like story. This isn’t a place for complex issues, but one where men fall into their worst, most primal instincts. As such, everything is simple. The conversations are basic, and the violence is quick and incredibly jarring. All of it is wonderfully effective on a visceral level.
The two lead performances are fantastic. I’ve always found Pearce to be a criminally underrated actor, and here he proves why he should be one of the main leading men in Hollywood. Although his character is certainly a man of few words, Pearce makes each of them count, and slowly we come to understand what has completely destroyed this man. He also really shines in the action scenes as an uncompromising force of nature. Pattinson is also very impressive, affecting a sometimes indecipherable southern accent, and committing completely to the physical handicaps of what is essentially a child in a man’s body. Sometimes it can feel a little showy, but he manages to ride the line to where it gets a pass. There’s definitely potential for him to eclipse his Twilight reputation.
Despite how impressive Michod’s style is, he often sacrifices entertainment in the process. In a way, this movie is reminiscent of Drive, in that these characters are all pretty basic, leading us to one bloody act of violence to the next. However, while in Drive it feels completely stylistic, here it can just get extraneous. There are long scenes that are just our two leads driving somewhere, or walking around, and it becomes very numbing after a while, particularly in the second act. While the beginning and end are incredibly focused, there is definitely a bit of meandering from place to place in the middle which can get pretty tiresome.
Overall, this is one of those movies that impresses mostly on a very film-school level. The assembly of this is just fantastic. It has some of the most arresting production design, cinematography, and action sequences I’ve seen all year. However, on a story level, it certainly falls short despite fantastic performances from Pearce and Pattinson. Average viewers should pass, but filmmakers in need of a little inspiration will definitely get some good old artistic tingles.