Australian director David Michôd made his feature length directorial debut back in 2010 with the uncompromising and powerful Animal Kingdom, instantly proving himself one to watch for the future. Now he’s back with The Rover, a bleak and violent tale of retribution, solidarity and redemption that proves Michôd isn’t just a one-trick pony.
Set, as the opening titles informs us, “10 years after the collapse,” the plot follows Eric (Guy Pearce), a mysterious loner who one day has his only real possession, his car, stolen by a gang of criminals. He then sets off to hunt them down but soon crosses paths with the brother (Robert Pattinson) of one of the thieves, the two of them forming an uneasy and unlikely friendship along the way.
Playing out like a cross between his own Animal Kingdom and fellow Aussie director John Hillcoat’s The Road and The Proposition, Michôd’s film is tense and gripping from the off. We are immediately intrigued by Pearce’s Eric and the film does a great job of drawing us into his character and making us want to find out more about his past and his motivations. Pearce plays him with steely-eyed intensity, grizzled and grimacing, his bite worse than his already menacing bark as he charges his way through a harsh landscape to get the ones who wronged him. It’s basically a two-man show for most of it between him and Robert Pattinson’s criminal-turned-hostage, twitching and barely literate with a Southern drawl, a far cry from his days as a sparkling vampire. The two of them give admirably committed performances that add to the realism of the film.
Why exactly Eric cares so much about his car is part of the film’s mystery – “What a thing to get worked up about in this day and age,” states one of the people he meets on his journey – and how much you’re invested in that why and Eric’s character in general will determine how much you ultimately get out of the film. It’s not a film of abundant explanation – it’s never really clarified what exactly “the collapse” was – with dialogue and action as sparse as the landscape in which it’s set and a nihilistic outlook that’s hard to outright like.
But Michôd isn’t exactly going for likeability and the film benefits from not having someone in there just for the sake of the audience having a nice character to hold onto. Michôd employs a skilful control of tone and atmosphere, conjuring a palpable sense of dread about what’s around the next corner. And the fact that not that much happens for long stretches of time only makes the moments of graphic violence all the more shocking.
The Rover is a film of loud gunshots and deafening silences, sometimes unbearably tense and always crushingly bleak to leave no mistake that this is a living, breathing, dangerous post-apocalyptic world. The ending will split audiences, for some a weak punchline of a destination that doesn’t warrant the journey but for me it added an effective full stop to a gritty, powerful, deliberately paced thriller.