Saturday, September 20, 2014

Film Review: The Rover

Copyright: A24
When David Michôd created Animal Kingdom, I was truly impressed. This unspectacularly-looking crime thriller set in the contemporary Melbourne had a really disturbing feel about it, and I couldn’t put a finger on it. Its tense atmosphere, inhabited by cryptic yet totally understandable characters stayed in my mind for a long time, so naturally I was excited about seeing The Rover.

Partly, I expected something in line with Mystery Road, in the sense that the film would utilize the very familiar feel of the Australian outback, where tough people live in a hard land. The setting of the film, which takes place 10 years after an unexplained economic collapse, seems to further underline my expectations. Michôd is obviously not a big fan of anything that might look like oversimplification, we regularly see in other movies, especially when it comes to the thing that people feel. 

Because of this, The Rover isn’t a film about tough people. It’s a film about people who stopped being human in today’s standards a long time ago, but who still continue to live and breathe. Now, they are surrounded by violent deaths and total senselessness in any moral or philosophical way (on a second thought, maybe we are always surrounded by this). Eric is the main protagonist of the film, a loner who gets his car stolen by a small gang of men.

He sets off to get his vehicle back without any regards to his own safety, only to encounter a wounded young man called Rey, who turns out to be the brother of the gang’s leader. Rey was left for dead, and Eric picks him up so he could manage to find the gang and take what is his, although there is no apparent reason for him to risk his life for an easily replaceable vehicle.

Robert Pattinson really tried hard to stay in line with Guy Pearce who plays Eric. He pulled this off, and that is why Pattinson’s Rey, who seems inadequately mentally developed, is as convincing as Perce’s uncompromising and very violent Eric. On several occasions, Pattinson took his role a bit too far, but not so much that he ruined the character. Pearce, on the other hand, was rock solid, and managed to transmit many feelings by simple looks and facial unease that his character feels in this desolate, cruel and senseless world.

As the two main characters go about their bloody and often totally random business, Michôd goes off to explore the setting that is comprised of desperation and meaningless survival. He wisely chose to make this world very reliable – there are no zombies or roaming tribes of leather-clad psychopaths driving motorbikes with metal spikes. Instead, everything looks normal and dirt poor Instead, psychopaths wear old and stained but regular clothes, just like everyone else.

The railroad is working, there is an army driving around and acting as an improvised police force and regular people seem to be intent on mostly selling thins, from cans of food to soft-skinned boys. Money is just paper which is gradually becoming even less than that, but people still struggle to get it, looking exclusively for US dollars, not the Australian ones.

There is no grandeur in this film, even the destructive kind we are used to seeing in these types of setting. In it, Michôd shows a decline as a natural progression of something (buildings, people, ideas, moral concepts and many other things) towards a universal nothing. The possibility of redemption is simply lost, as are notions of good and bad. All that the characters can do is to bury the dead and carry on killing until they themselves are killed or stopped from living further in some other way.

It’s a vision of post-apocalyptic hell, but with a very distinctive taste of the genuine possibility of becoming reality someday. The Road, another great film that explores a similar topic, created its story on the wings of an almost Biblical cataclysm, finding solace in the idea that love towards the ones who are closest to us like our children can save us. The Rover, on the other hand, created its own world of death and decay on a very different scenario: the money went bad, and so did we.