The Rover is beautiful but a bit hollow

The Rover

Once upon a time, Australia produced two really good post-apocalypse movies. They were fun and violent and had people in football gear beating the hell out of each other. Since then whenever Australia produces a new post-apocalypse movie, people tend to take notice. Even if Tina Turner’s involved. This was the case with The Rover, a low-key post-apocalypse flick that I was told by multiple people is worth a look-see. And while, having watched the film, I can agree that it is worth checking out if you’re curious, I’m not entirely sure I can give it the full stamp of approval.

The film stars Guy Pearce as a nameless, roving wanderer, struggling to survive ten years after the fall of civilization. The exact details of that fall is something we’re never really let in on, but judging by the results it was a fairly gentle apocalypse. No one’s bolted spike and buzzsaws to their cars, there’s nary a bandit or even a mohawk in sight, and while there is at least one dwarf present, he doesn’t seem to be the Master of anything, much less Blaster. No, this is a more agreeable post-apocalyptic wasteland, where everyone’s just kinda dirty and pissed off, which is probably tempting some of you to ask “Well how is that different from Australia the way it is now? Har har har.”

Rover posterAfter Pearce’s car is stolen, he stumbles upon the brother of one of the men who did the stealing, played by Robert Pattinson, who got left behind for dead after some dirty deal gone bad. Pearce then uses Pattinson to try get on the tail of his stolen wheels.

After the impossibly convoluted and constantly changing storyline of The Congress last week, it was almost refreshing when The Rover‘s set-up proved about as simple as it could get. Some dudes steal the protagonist’s ride, and he really really wants to get it back. But I think that after realizing that their log-line was more straightforward than your average grocery list, the film makers realized they would need to add some stuff to spice things up, which is why the film is peppered with fairly self-contained encounters and episodes. An encounter with some bandit types here, a shootout there. But where things seem problematic is that these episodes seem a bit too self-contained. You could almost switch up the order of things, and I’m not sure whether it would make that much difference. Pearce is so committed to being your archetypal stoic loner type that you don’t get the sense that he’s changing or evolving much from scene to scene. Pattinson’s character is a bit better, but not by a whole lot. The result is that the film overall left me feeling a bit hollow in the end. I didn’t feel like I’d watched a story so much as a series of vignettes with a really good beginning and a really good ending, but with a series of mostly random, unconnected events in the middle.

It’s in stark contrast to something like The Battery, which took a similar track of an extremely simple premise held aloft by character and acting. But while with The Battery I felt like I was watching two characters and the relationship between the two evolving and being tested, The Rover felt more like two fairly blank slates reacting to whatever the world could throw at them.

Rover insert

On the up side, Pearce and Pattinson both do fairly well when they’re called upon to do something other than be stoic and cold, in Pearce’s case, and Southern and dim, in Pattinson’s case. Some of you may be shocked at that, but Robert Pattinson can actually act when the need arises, and this may be the best turn I’ve seen him give yet.

Visually, the film is built around an extremely stark set of aesthetics. Lots of washed out colors, long takes of the protagonists staring off into space, sweeping shots of the desolate landscape. It’s quite beautiful when it wants to be, putting what Herzog would probably call “the magnificent, lifeless desolation, like the soul of an accountant” of the Australian outback to use to pretty remarkable effect at times.

The only other formal quality of note the film has under its belt is the soundtrack: this odd, discordant series of wails and warbles that somehow works in the context of the film, but would probably make you want to punch a puppy in the face if you heard it for more than a minute or so anywhere else.

But despite the beauty, and indeed the strong execution on display, The Rover left me cold in the end. It felt like I wasn’t on a journey as much as witness to a series of occasionally violent incidents, which did wind up going somewhere in the end, but I’m note entirely sure if it was somewhere worth going.

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