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It feels like any time the world is in disarray we are gifted with endless tales of dystopia or post-apocalypses, an attempt to grapple with the real feeling the world is slipping away from us. One of the best choices director/co-writer David Michôd makes in his spare revenge tale The Rover is to ignore the […]


It feels like any time the world is in disarray we are
gifted with endless tales of dystopia or post-apocalypses, an attempt to
grapple with the real feeling the world is slipping away from us. One of the
best choices director/co-writer David Michôd
makes in his spare revenge tale The Rover is to ignore the wherefores
of how the world came to this particular conclusion (the film opens with a
simple title card: “Australia. Ten Years After the Collapse.”), instead
focusing on the human wreckage generated by a world reverting back to frontier
morality. Every makeshift storefront contains dirt-caked faces packing heat and
the minimalist Pinter-tinged dialogue (an example: “Have you seen my car?” “What’s your name?” “Have you seen my
car?” “What’s your name?”) suggest words are just another in a long line of meaningless currencies in this new
world. For a minimalist setting, an equally minimalist plot: Eric (Guy Pearce)
has his car, his last worldly possession, stolen from him by a trio of would-be
criminals (Scoot McNairy, Tawanda Manyimo and David Field) fleeing the scene of
their crime. Eric pursues these men relentlessly with the aid of Rey (Robert
Pattinson), brother to one of the criminals and left behind after being thought
dead. That is the entire film– a steady, measured pursuit of retribution
across an unforgiving landscape.

With every fresh stop on their journey through this
collapsed world – a gro-picar-tesque, if you will– the film’s energy ebbs and
flows. The film manages to make a good bit of hay out from Pearce’s live-wire performance as Eric, whose actions are always teetering on the precipice of
violence (and often tumbling over), which is important because the audience
feels as though anything could happen even though for long stretches
absolutely nothing does. The real surprise for me was the quality of Robert
Pattinson’s performance as Reynolds, the abandoned brother (presumed dead and
left behind by the trio earlier) who tags along with Pearce’s drifter on his
journey to retrieve his automobile. It’s a great bit of character work,
deepening a character that in lesser hands would’ve only been a handful of
facial tics and dinner theatre-stuttering, crafting a genuinely sympathetic
character in the midst of an endlessly bleak story. If Pattinson is desperate
to get out from the shadow his
Twilight vampire is unable to cast,
this performance (paired with Cronenberg’s
Cosmopolis) suggests a rich career ahead.

As with any contemplatively paced film your mileage might
vary, but for this reviewer, the rewards of the rich cinematography and lean
performances far outweigh any narrative deficiencies. Natasha Braier does
beautiful work here, capturing the classic remote Western landscapes and
sweat-soaked faces that populate the frame with equal skill – the heat is so
palpable that one can imagine the film (this was filmed in super 35mm) bubbling
as it passes through the projector. For a long time I worried that the film’s
nihilistic tendencies were masking a paucity of meaning, senseless violence in
support of a senseless universe. But as the film reaches its final moments and motivations
snap into clear focus, a sliver of humanity can be grasped amidst the arid,
remote vistas these characters find themselves in. And while for some this may
come as too little, too late; it’s a grace note that resonated with me and
seems a succinct explanation for what could possibly still matter when one has
lost everything.

The Rover opens today in
and around the Milwaukee area (including the Oriental Theatre).

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