“You should never stop thinking about a life you’ve taken. That’s the price you pay for taking it.” – Eric in The Rover
David Michod’s Animal Kingdom (2010) was one of the best received and widely seen Australian films of recent years. It is no surprise then that his follow up film The Rover (2014) has a fair bit of hype surrounding it, both here and abroad. Hype that is no doubt helped by the intriguing premise of the film and the fact that it features Robert Pattinson, he of the Twilight films I have never seen, in a lead role.
The Rover is set in “Australia – Ten years after the collapse.” The nature of the collapse is never really elaborated on and I have seen arguments online about if this is technically a post apocalyptic film. I don’t think it matters, as I think that the film gives you everything you need to know about this place and is all the stronger for not dwelling on the details. Guy Pearce plays the quiet and imposing Eric whose car is stolen early in the film. Along the way he runs into Robert Pattinson’s Rey, a young man might be able to lead him to the people who stole his car. Much of The Rover is studious in its approach and there is a stillness that permeates so much of the film. Similar in a way (though vastly different in heaps of other ways) to Drive, the stillness is punctuated by furious bursts of violence that say a lot about what this place has become. Even more than in his first feature, Michod brings a singular artistic vision to this film through the dusty and sparse locales, that look apocalyptic without even really trying. The violence also helps to flesh out the atmosphere of the film, with its loud and almost random nature showing that this is a violent, lawless and more importantly amoral place.
There are more than two characters in the film, but much of it rests on the shoulders of Robert Pattinson and Guy Pearce. Pattinson has a gaunt physicality that suits the downtrodden nature of the environment perfectly. I have issues with the writing of his character as he feels a little underdrawn and oblique at times. Having said that though, that is one of the few issues I had with the script which is otherwise really well written with some bloody high points. His performance is excellent though and coming nearish enough to a totally different turn in David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis (2012) shows he has quite the range. The real star of the film is definitely Guy Pearce. Again, part of it is his physicality. Grimy with a long beard, his character feels twice the size and twice as mean than Pearce no doubt is in real life. He is a man that has been battered into a hardened core by what he has seen and a exudes a resignation that he will see just as bad, if not worse in the future. The character of Eric is a seriously conflicting one to watch. He is the ‘hero’ of the piece I guess. However for so much of the film you don’t know if he is motivated by survival, merely a ‘couldn’t give a fuck’ attitude or something deeper. Not being aware of his motivations makes it all the more difficult to reconcile some of his heinous actions throughout the film.
I like it when films from my country are not afraid to be overtly Australian, and by combining universal themes with quite specific ones that will perhaps not be totally clear to an overseas audience, Michod achieves that with The Rover. The violence that I mentioned earlier explores the lengths that people will go to and the ease with which they can turn to that as a solution. The film itself is hyper-masculine, both literally and thematically. There are only a couple of females in this vision of near future Australia, but again Michod challenges his viewer here by leaving the why of this unexplained. This fact lends a hyper-masculinity to the violence on display as the men on occasions pump up their muscles through their guns. The great quote above is a line from the film which exemplifies the theme of I guess ‘costs’ that runs through the film. Sins and karma if you will, though not in a spiritual way at all. But in the way that quite literally every action you take, no matter how little or great the thought that underpins it, will have very real ramifications and if you don’t get the chance to ponder them beforehand, you should do so afterwards. And then you should seek your redemption in some way, either by actively seeking it out, or by awaiting it. There is also a very literal and I think universal aspect to the ending that I will not go into detail about here.
On the more specific to Australia side of the thematic equation are some allegories for the Indigenous experience in Australia, particularly personified by one very minor character. There is also some pointed criticism of the essentially unchecked usage of this nation’s land for mining interests that threatens not just the environment in a ‘green’ sense but the agricultural foundations of rural Australia as well. The ending is such an interesting one. Obviously I am not going to give it away, but I would love to get people’s thoughts on it once they have seen the film. It was totally unexpected, not because it is a showy twist. Rather because it is so grounded and matter of fact. It genuinely hit me hard though which was a total shock to me and is a credit to how the ending makes you consider everything that has come before it in a totally new light.
It is a rare that I give this rating to a film that I have some qualms about. But the rating is more a recommendation for you to go and see it rather than claiming it is perfect. It isn’t. It’s not all that far off though and the rough edges come from Michod and co attempting to push the boundaries a little in terms of the tale a contemporary commercial film will tell. The result was a film that left me feeling energised and enthralled like perhaps no other I have seen this year.
Verdict: Longneck of Melbourne Bitter