Documentaries and feature films about Mount Everest have become a dime a dozen over recent years. They all follow a pretty simplistic formula – a focus on some American or European climber chasing their dream, caught up un some terrifying existential disaster, tragedy and heroism abounding and all helpfully set against perhaps the most stunning backdrop in the world – and they all feel a little bit the same as a result. Jennifer Peedom’s Sherpa (2015) though feels totally different, and adds something new and important to the conversation.
The film begins by laying out the perspective of a Sherpa, both in more societal terms and through an individual examination. From there, the film focuses on an intelligent analysis of the Everest industry, pivoting around the differing reactions to a day of major tragedy in 2014. Perhaps a better term for this western construction would be the Everest industrial complex. There is a form of racism or more accurately colonialism where westerners pay huge sums, sometimes six-figures, to climb the mountain. A mountain where they will traverse the most dangerous parts of once or twice, while the indigenous Sherpas will be required to climb the same area up to 30 times in a season. It also gets to the deep emotional connection that Sherpas have with the mountain, contrasted with the ugly, shallow pursuit of accolades apparent in those from the west. We see a man who has come to love the mountain more than his family, who has summited 21 times. An outlook built on obsession but also a very real, genuine spiritual connection to both the mountain and his continued ascent of it. As befits the location of the story, Sherpa is one of the most visually striking films I’ve seen this year, especially in the first half. Here creativity and excellent shot selection make the imagery both familiar and unique – slow-mo, snowflakes, close-ups, wide shots. There is some handheld, primary source material too, but it’s thankfully not overdone and Peedom selects when to use it, the shots to select and how long to run them for really well.
It is a surprise, a nice one though, that a film such as Sherpa has received such a wide cinema release. Eschewing expectation, ‘disaster-porn’ or putting the interest of western participants second makes the film far more interesting and intellectually stimulating, though less immediately marketable. It is the kind of film that does the festival circuit (which this one has to rave reviews), but that it would be nice to see more of in mainstream cinemas. Of course the shit does eventually hit the fan, and it is presented in a white knuckle terrifying way. This sequence is incredibly composed, the cutting together of radio chatter and footage brings to life the organisational chaos unfolding. But whilst respectfully acknowledging the tragedy, Peedom is more interested in the ramifications that it brings about. Initially there are arguments over who should go in the first chopper to the disaster site. And this divide is reflected again and again in understandably ever-broadening points of contention. Insurance, pay, respect and widespread anger toward inequity and the government’s role in it. It is here that the film’s only real failure is present. I’m not so sure that the complexity of Sherpa vs western dynamic after the avalanche is handled that well. Maybe that’s because it is just so damn complex and Peedom is not interested in giving glib niceties as the solution. But additional clarity around the root cause, specific demands and historical machinations between the two groups may have strengthened this part of the film slightly.
Verdict: Sherpa towers above similar films… like Everest if you will. Unwavering in its focus on the local connection and exploitation raging at the heart of the mountain, this is one of the best documentaries of the year so far. Pint of Kilkenny
Holding the Man (2015) is an Australian drama based on the true story of Timothy Conigrave and his long-term partner John Caleo. The story previously reached the stage in a play written by Conigrave himself, and here it is Neil Armfield of Candy (2006) fame bringing it to the big screen.
The film takes place 70s and 80s Melbourne and Sydney. Needless to say attitudes toward homosexual relationships have changed a great deal in that time. Holding the Man succeeds on some levels at bringing that out, but also falls short on a few key parts of it. The film is quite slow to get going and the pace of the narrative is laborious throughout unfortunately. It struggles to establish a sense of place, the school environment for young gay men never feeling fleshed out or explained. Conigrave and Caleo’s connection and love story is the major strength of the film early on. But just when this is being established really well, the story jumps ahead a decade or so. This calls to attention the major issue with the film’s structure, namely the time-shifts. In a film covering a timeframe as long as this, it is inevitable that they will be required but they don’t work. The initial jump strips away a lot of the power in the love story, which to that point was the best part of the film. There is too much time between the shifts, so you forget if the story has gone forward or back, leaving the viewer (well this viewer), confused. The aspects of the film played with a lighter touch play well. It’s cool to see a funny gay sex scene, where there is not a need to portray it as overtly sexy or serious, whilst the fun times with the university gay rights advocacy group channel the joyful spirit of Pride (2014) for a time.
As well as being a love story, the film also presents the devastating impact of AIDS during this time period. We see this in the connection between Timothy and John, how this evolves as the disease plays a greater role in their lives, but also more broadly, in the depiction of other men with the disease and the hospitals they spend their final weeks. The portrayal of the disease, and its bearing on the men that contract it, is truly crushing. Although it’s a minor part of the film, it is inspirational to see the doctors and social workers, working on the frontline of AIDS services back in the day. At other times though, the film struggles to find the tenderness and emotion that should be so plain. Eventually the film lands that with its finale, but moments throughout the film like the wedding dance between Conigrave and his dad, played by Guy Pearce, which is tender and gets to the heart of the story, are far too rare. If there is one overwhelming reason to see Holding the Man, it is the performance of Ryan Corr. Initially, he does a great job of establishing the world of the film. He is an awkward teenager, seemingly comfortable in his sexuality, though not so much in life more generally (like 95% of teens I guess). There is a mixture of confidence and insecurity in Conigrave and Corr is able to draw both of those aspects out and occasionally combine them in a really impressive way. Aside from some slightly dusty turns in minor roles, the cast is excellent overall. It is so good to see Anthony Lapaglia doing his thing. The dude has gravitas and we don’t see him in enough. Sarah Snook and Guy Pearce are both excellent, as they pretty much are in everything, though both of their characters are very minor in terms of screen time.
Verdict: Even though it’s not really a story that has been told a lot, Holding the Man often feels pretty tired in its telling. However the performance from Ryan Corr is borderline transcendent and worth the price of admission alone, not to mention that the film is legitimately affecting when it manages to eventually find the heart of the story. Stubby of Reschs
No film has ever dominated my twitter feed quite like Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) these last couple of weeks. Recognising that the series was a large gap in my personal filmography, I jumped back and took a look at the earlier films before checking out the new one, starting with Mad Max (1979).
The first film is perhaps less well known that Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981), especially in the States, but it’s a film that I much prefer and that I think has aged a lot better. There is a unique balance to proceedings, which are quite lightly plotted. Early there is constant action and kinetic energy being splashed all over the screen. Then the film settles, building out the world a little and focusing on the family elements of the plot, before kicking into overdrive for a really quite short final revenge sequence where Max turns very much from content, into mad. Up until that final part of the film, the main thematic propulsion simply comes from a dude struggling with what his job says about him as a person. A struggle many of us face and which helps to make this the most relatable film in the series. Indeed there is a universality to most of what is happening. The audience is happy to see Max bring his violent revenge to bear at the end of the film, due to the intimate understanding of what has been taken away from him by the villains of the film. Especially as it is brought about by one of the most coldly violent murders you will see on screen.
The word building in the film is simultaneously sparse and effective. Miller never feels bothered to overly flesh out the world with intricate levels of detail. As someone who grew up in rural Australia, the sparse, empty roads and fields were incredibly familiar. Thought the focus is not on effects or hi-tech futurism, the vision it builds is still pretty nightmarish. Some small flourishes – the search for fuel, a seemingly tiny population and ‘Prohibited Area’ signs – go a long way. This is a near future that is lawless, seemingly reigned over only by incoherence. Another aspect of this lawlessness is built up in the film through the invocation of the Western genre, which was so heavily focused on film’s most iconic ‘wild’ setting. The way people dismount their motorcycles, a focus on boots and jackets and the adjusting and removal of helmets are all lingered on, recalling Eastwood or similar riding in on a noble steed. These flourishes also feed in to the writing of the film which focuses heavily on building the psychology of the characters. On one level there are goodies and baddies, but dig a little deeper and what characterises a villain and what characterises a hero becomes far murkier. The performances support this, especially from Hugh Keays-Byrne as Toecutter, a character who has an aura and seeping malevolence which inspires his followers. Characteristics that Immortan Joe, played by the same actor in the franchise’s most recent, also has tons of. There is something towering, discomforting and ominous about both of those turns by Keays-Byrne. The baby faced Mel Gibson is also excellent, especially when turning and gaining his revenge. The actions sharply conflicting with the innocent face and family man of the film further detailing the psychological trauma that has been wrought upon him. And it’s always great to see Steve Bisley on screen as well.
After seeing this film and Fury Road, it is fair to say that no one does vehicular mayhem quite like George Miller. Everything is so real feeling in this film and you feel the impact of every collision. It makes you wonder how on earth Miller got this film made really. The stunt work in the film is heart-stoppingly thrilling as cars and motorbikes converge violently over and over. Coupled with that is the camerawork, simply showing the action safe in the knowledge that the crowd will lap up every collision and explosion. The camera is also used to great effect to create tension. The sequence running from a forest, to a beach and then back to the forest is the tensest in the whole film, with nary a car in sight. Miller achieves this with slight movement of the camera, flitting in and out of the trees and masterfully controlling what is in the frame.
Verdict: Those taking a look at Mad Max for the first time, expecting the same level of freneticism Mad Max Fury Road delivered, may well be a little befuddled by what they find. But whilst it is different, it is no less unique and is a film that should be sought out by any action or sci-fi aficionados who have somehow never seen it til now. Pint of Kilkenny
Related beermovie.net articles for you to check out: The Great Escape and Quick Review: The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert.
There has been a steadily growing stream of low-budget Australian sci-fi over recent years, helping to complement our strong horror output. With streaming finally making some decent headway, that looks set to continue. That is the path that Infini (2015) has taken, with a streaming focused release, coupled with a few select cinema screenings, helping to get the film out there.
Infini takes a relatively old fashioned approach to the genre. Back story is conveyed via text onscreen, which actually functions quite well. Much better than if they had tried to flesh out the timeline more, which would have just stretched the budget too thin you suspect. The text states that in the 23rd century poverty is overwhelming, with the poor forced out of necessity to take low paying jobs and exceptionally dangerous jobs. Many are subjected to slipstreaming, which is a highly dangerous form of transport, that more or less looks like teleporting. This is all simple, but well constructed worldbuilding that allows the film to jump more or less straight into the action of the plot, after a brief moment lingering on the main character’s family life. The story that follows is a nice mishmash of common sci-fi elements, themes and sub-genres. There’s an isolated planet in deepest darkest (coldest) space, a rescue team and a crazy person. It’s very survival horror, with more than a dash of influence from zombie films too. The script does get a little scrappy in the final act when it tries to ramp up the delirium of the characters and the situation, but that is sort of saved by the unlikely element of sound design. The cacophony of voices in the heads of the characters does a much better job of conveying the descent into chaos that is taking place.
Visually, the filmmakers have done a really good job here. Nothing ever looks cheap and they manage to render a slick looking dystopian vision really well. It’s apparent that they’ve used a fair few ‘household’ style items (corrugated iron seems to feature a fair bit), which they manage to combine into sets that well and truly serve the purpose of the film, which is especially true on the isolated planet. Likewise the CGI is really good in the film, mainly because they don’t use that much, focusing more on practical effects. But when they do throw in a bit of CGI, generally to flesh out an expansive background, there are none of those distinctive cheap looking effects so common in sci-fi. Actually I barely even noticed the CGI at all, which is about the biggest compliment you can pay it. On the acting front, the film is populated with a relatively diverse cast and a bunch of Aussie character actors. Daniel MacPherson, best known for appearing on a fair few soapies out here is in the lead role and does it well. He has enough gravitas, at least in a genre sense, to buy into him as a hero. There is the odd patchy performance, but they thankfully never take you out of the film for too long.
Verdict: If old fashioned sci-fi is your thing, then the creative throwback style of Infini will be to your taste. There are patchy moments, but the loving manner in which traditional genre tropes are combined makes this a nice ride. If you’re still on the fence, it also contains the phrase “primordial ooze”, so 10,000 bonus points for that. Stubby of Reschs
The Infinite Man (2014) is an Australian sci-fi comedy which did not make much of a dent at the local box office. It has however created a reasonable amount of buzz amongst those who managed to catch it, even popping up on some best of 2014 lists over the past couple of weeks.
Immediately the film makes no bones about the fact that it is a love story first and foremost. We meet Dean and Lana, celebrating an anniversary at an outback motel. Or tyring to anyway. Dean is a great character, a lovesick, very nerdy and slightly neurotic scientist. He is desperately trying to have the perfect weekend with the love of his life, meticulously setting out a weekend of traditional Dutch music, massage, tantric sex and a whole lot more. The focus from this man, whose work is bound up in the logic of the universe that surrounds him, is very much on the meticulous control of variables rather than the spontaneous moments that arise with the one you love. This attribute, perhaps the strongest of his character, leads to an inevitable breakdown in the success of the anniversary weekend and sends the film spiralling down a time travel road, as Dean repeatedly attempts to do-over the weekend more successfully.
Occasionally time travel films would be better without the time travel. And that’s kind of how I feel about this film. I was totally onboard with the quirky love story vibe of this film. But once the time travelling starts, it just lost me a bit. It’s by no means bad, but it just slows the film down a lot in a storytelling sense. The time travel elements allow the themes of the film – living in the moment, changing the past, love, and the ability to let go – to be examined in greater depth. Unfortunately for me though, this enhanced thematic depth came at the expense of narrative enjoyment. Whilst initially the approach to the time travel captured my interest, with different versions of all the characters trying to avoid running into each other, it quickly became too slow, bogged down away from the emotional heart that had been so well established.
There are only three characters in the film and they are all good, especially the lead two. Alex Dimitriades is excellent as always as Terry, Lana’s ex-boyfriend who is basically a caricature to drive the plot along. Given the skill that Dimitriades possesses as a comedic actor though, his character does not feel tacked on or annoying as a narrative device. Dean, played by Josh McConville, is the most interesting of the characters. He is adeptly set up early on as a man whose (considerable) intelligence seeps into and generally overwhelms every aspect of his life. This is the constant battle for Dean throughout the entire film. Despite being relatively young, Lana (Hannah Marshall) seems weary with the world and especially the men who surround her. She is sick of Dean’s lack of spontaneity and the oppressiveness of trying to be with someone so rooted in the scientific. Despite the small cast, the film never seems empty, helped along by the fact the material is filmed with a light tough and all three of the actors are really good with what they have.
You can see that this was a low-budget film, but director Hugh Sullivan and his crew have done an excellent job of utilising what was available to them. The isolated location gives it a distinctively Australian flavour, even if perhaps initially it does not feel like it suits the story. But the story grows into the location and by the end of the film it feels a more natural fit. Once the characters are established it effectively functions as a blank slate for the material and actors to weave their magic on. The sparseness is in fact a benefit, as it focuses the viewer’s attention in on the strengths of the film that are not dictated by budget. Script wise, The Infinite Man is a strange beast. It is a truly funny script, but one without any real jokes in it. Rather the observational style, especially around the frustrations and challenges of relationships, will have you chuckling along. The editing is particularly sharp in the film, hinting at the time travel aspects in the first act and then bringing them to life later on.
Verdict: In the end, The Infinite Man is one of those films that I wanted to like more than I did. As a quirky rom-com with a scientist lead character the type of which is rare in this kind of film, there is definitely plenty to enjoy. It’s just that the time travel that dominates the narrative slows the narrative flow of the film more than I would have liked. Stubby of Reschs
Related beermovie.net articles for you to check out: Predestination and Quick Review: The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert.
Razorback (1984) is a humble Aussie B-movie that had the audacity and good marketing sense to deem itself ‘Jaws on land’. Does it live up to that lofty goal? Hell no. Is it daft fun when accompanied by a bunch of beers? Hell yes.
For those who don’t know, razorbacks are actually a phenomenon and major problem in rural Australia. Feral pigs run rampant, growing to massive size, with very little in the way of natural predators. Pig hunting is a favoured past time amongst a certain type of person in Australia who often don’t actually look and sound all that different to the hideously narrow minded, racist hunters in this film. Razorback captures some of the barbarism inherent in bloodlust and the almost sexual thrill that some hunters get from their slaughter. The film is a little slapdash, with everything just thrown on the canvas to see what works. There is an armoured car, which I believe was a requirement of any Aussie genre film of this vintage. There are a few jaunts into absurdist territory which really does not work. There are a couple of American interlopers, one of them a reporter, and these outsiders function as a way to highlight just how alien a place the Australian outback really is. And the deaths are well shot, with the characters who go and the order that occurs is at least a touch surprising.
There is something of the delightful silliness and simplicity of Roger Corman at his best in Razorback. It’s bad, but endearingly so. Even when crafting a pretty accurate, if stylised and (only slightly) exaggerated portrait of life in remote Australia, the film never allows that to get in the way of the fact that there is an enormous, murderous pig on the rampage. Nor should it. The setting is a real point of difference, with the expanses of sun drenched outback a stark change-up to the horror setting norm of dank, dark, enclosed spaces and the filmmakers do toy with that. Though the film is nothing like Jaws (1975) on basically every level, it does nail one bit. The pig used is so monumentally terrible and fake looking that the film does everything it can to hide it away. Which leads to the good – funky silhouettes and PPOV (pig point of view) shots, and the bad – at times the film could use a little more giant murderous pig. Thematically, there is a little to discuss, even thought the film functions mainly as a blast of stupid fun. Feral pigs are often used as a metaphor for environmental degradation in Australia. They are not native and do untold damage to the landscape, just as mining, agriculture and numerous other feral species do. As for the script, it’s awesome. And by awesome I mean terrible. Razorbacks supposedly not having a nervous system plays a major role in the plot and the quote “took his grandson, his daughter and his pride… that boar destroyed his life” features shows its qualities.
Verdict: If you are a fan of what the gents of The Flophouse call ‘good bad’ movies, then Razorback has what you need. It falls comically short of fulfilling its Jaws on land premise. But it is comical and loads of fun, with the perfect mix of competence and incompetence. First class 80s schlock. Verdict: Stubby of Reschs
Just a heads up before I jump headlong into my review of Beckoning the Butcher (2013), I noticed the film is playing in the Viewster Film Fest that is currently going on. So if anything I write here piques your interest or you just can’t get enough of found footage horror flicks, check it out here.
Beckoning the Butcher is an Australian found footage film, impressively made on what looks to be a miniscule budget by director Dale Trott. Even after my not too enjoyable last found footage experience which was Creep (2014) at MIFF a little while back, I was pretty keen for this. The 10:30pm on a Friday night scheduling seemed perfect for a little low budget high concept horror action and I conveniently had a beer in hand.
In terms of setup, you will have seen a vast majority of what Beckoning the Butcher does a few times before. There is the obligatory thank you to the families of those who had gone missing and some after the fact ‘interviews’ delivered direct to the camera which were very reminiscent of another Aussie found footage film The Tunnel (2011). Actually that was a film brought to mind quite regularly whilst watching this one. There were however some nice original touches in the film’s construction. The fact that the main character Chris is a Youtube star, thanks to his videos of undertaking various supernatural rituals, is an interesting way to explain away the presence of the cameras. And an ominous reference to the Deep Web sparked interest early on, but unfortunately is not really taken anywhere. The setting was also something a little different. Sure it was isolated and rural, but that is actually a relatively unique setting I think. Aussie farmland is not as done to death as house in the American woods. Also generally impressive were the performances from the younger cast members. All unknowns to me, they grounded the film well in its sillier moments and managed to set up believable interactions between one another. Some of the cast members in the interview segments were a little more stilted unfortunately. It was hard to pick if that was an issue with the performance, or the way in which those sequences were directed. But the result was that the suspernatural found footage horror elements actually felt more realistic than the ‘interviews’.
At times the low budget was a bit of a distraction, though for the most part on that front, the filmmakers have done impressively. It is just frustrating then that every so often something would take you out of the world of the film. One example is the logos on various objects (a package of salt for example) being fuzzed out. It sounds silly sure, but every time that happened, I started thinking about why the filmmakers had needed to do that, was there some disagreement with the folk at Saxa. And if I’m thinking about corporate interactions with large salt companies, I am not thinking about where the film is taking me. The major flaw and the one that means the film really fails in its aims, is the total lack of frights that it delivers. I was expecting to be scared out of my brain, because for all its flaws, found-footage as a filming style does allow for jump scares a plenty. Here though, the tension was never built up enough for the big terrifying moments to actually hit home for either me, or the audience that I watched the film with.
Verdict: Overall, despite definitely respecting the effort made and the achievement on a really low budget, not much about Beckoning the Butcher really works. The lack of real scares is pretty terminal for a film so reliant on frightening its audience to succeed. If you are on the lookout for some Aussie found footage goodness, you are probably better off turning your sights back a couple of years and picking up a copy of The Tunnel. Schooner of Carlton Draught
Don’t forget to get commenting away to go in the draw for a couple of sweet Madman DVDs. Details here.
The opening night film of the recent Melbourne International Film festival was the Spierig Brothers’ Predestination (2014). For such a massive festival, it is great to see a home grown genre flick getting the honour of being the first film up. Whilst it is not quite perfect, you can definitely see why the organisers thought that this film would be a great conversation starter to get things going.
Hybrid genre pictures are growing in popularity recently and the early stages of Predestination, combining sci-fi and crime elements, is a really good example of the form. There is an arch voiceover, time travel and a sense of classical crime fiction with the lone cop, gradually edging closer to the crime as he works the clues and chases down leads. It takes place (for the most part) in a 70s New York that feels more like the 50s with a hardboiled feel dripping from the dialogue. Then all of a sudden there is a shift in the film as the action slows and a bar conversation flashback takes up a really lengthy period of time. I would say a good half an hour which is a lot in a taut film like this one. Initially I was a little perturbed by this. I was enjoying the sci-fi crime jazz so much and I didn’t sign up for a drama, even though it is pretty compelling. But like many bold choices, I think it just takes a little bit of time to acclimatise to the unexpected shift. Indeed I think the decision makes the film a stronger one and if not that, it definitely makes it a more interesting and compelling one. Even so, whilst watching the film I was missing the time travel fantasticalness that I thought I was buying a ticket for. Don’t fret though because it comes thick and fast in the last section of the film. I am not going to pretend I entirely understood of the plot turns and ramifications. I think it would be really tough for anyone to pick them up first time through. But I actually don’t see it as a bad thing to be challenged in that way and I would happily watch the film again soon to try and pick up what I missed.
The big name on the cast list, returning for his second film with the brother directorial team after Daybreakers (2009) is Ethan Hawke. Over the past five years or so, Hawke has had a filmography probably as interesting as anyone’s and he does a great job here as the main temporal agent who carries a fair bit of the film. Hawke is great, but the real star is Australian actress Sarah Snook who carries probably an equal overall load but who definitely does more of the emotional lifting. I have seen Snook in a couple of things before, but she is totally transformative here. She shows exceptional range encompassing sassy all the way through to totally and utterly vulnerable. Part of that is due to the nature of the character that Snook plays which I can’t really go into without entering spoiler territory. But you would have to think that this performance will surely break Snook’s career into much bigger things. Well if there is any justice it will. Not only have the Spierig Brothers managed to draw quality performances out of their two leads, they have also delivered a film with very high production values. The film looks so slick and it is great to see an Australian film being set in New York that succeeds in making you feel like you are in that place.
Predestination has the kind of story that will have you thinking you know where it is taking you, before it flips on you. Without feeling cheap too which is nice. With two really wonderful central performances from Snook and Hawke, plenty for you to think about and the chance to see two young genre directors continue to hone their craft, this is one you should definitely support on the big screen if at all possible.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny
The Aussie Spierig Brothers have garnered a fair bit of acclaim for their first two genre flicks, Undead (2003) and Daybreakers (2009). Their latest effort Predestination (2014) will soon open the Melbourne International Film Festival with a wider release to follow. I haven’t seen their first two films, but I am definitely keen to check this one out in cinemas. I really like the imagery in the trailer, from the period flourishes to that initial image of Ethan Hawke exploding into glass. That’s an intriguing image and I can’t wait to see how that factors into the film as whole. I also really hope that this film breaks big, because the female lead Sarah Snook is a hell of a talent and deserves to be seen a whole lot more. Anyone happened to see the Spierig Brothers’ first couple of films?
“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