The Rover
dir-scr David Michod
prd David Michod, David Linde, Liz Watts
with Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy, Tawanda Manyimo, David Field, Susan Prior, Gillian Jones, Anthony Hayes, Gerald Coulthard, Jamie Fallon, Ben Armer, Jan Palo
release US 13.Jun.14, UK 15.Aug.14
14/Australia 1h43
The Rover
Trouble on the road: Pearce and Pattinson

pearce pattinson mcnairy
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Rover With a sometimes frustratingly slow pace and enigmatic script, this gritty road thriller dribbles information in tiny droplets as it wanders through a twisty story about tenacity and survival. It doesn't make a lot of sense, and ends on a strikingly unexpected note, but the characters make sure it's never as dull as it looks.

It's been a decade since "the collapse", and quiet tough-guy Eric (Pearce) is furious that his car has been stolen by a trio of outlaws (McNairy, Manyimo and Field). So he heads off in pursuit, along the way picking up the injured brother one of the hijackers, the simple-minded Rey (Pattinson), who knows where they're heading. As they travel, Eric and Rey are confronted with desperate people and trigger-happy soldiers. The law means nothing anymore, and neither does human life. So it's natural that Eric and Rey find it difficult to trust each other.

What plot there is unfolds through a series of stops along the road, as Eric and Rey encounter a variety of people living in rural anonymity across the Australian Outback. Although most scenes devolve into brutal violence, there are moments of humanity along the way, such as a tense encounter with a grandmotherly brothel madam (Jones), a helpful doctor (Prior) and a soldier (Hayes) who's merely doing his job.

Through all of this, Pearce keeps all expression off of his weather-beaten face, seemingly acting only with his mind, which is remarkably effective in such a grim setting. Pattinson, by contrast, gives a full-bodied performance that constantly quivers and shakes. It feels somewhat overdone opposite the still Pearce, but manages to elicit sympathy. Everyone else on screen looks pretty hollow, never sure what to make of any newcomer they see. Rather than say hello, they're more likely to fire a warning shot right at your head.

Yes, this is bleak stuff. It also feels like a prequel to the original Mad Max, set sometime after society fell apart but before all-out chaos took over. Michod stages scenes in ways that build the tension, even as he refuses to explain what's happening. He even has one person voice the nagging question: why is Eric so desperate to get that car back? There is an answer in the end, but like everything in the film it feels somewhat undercooked, leaving us with an even bigger conundrum: what is Michod saying here?

cert 15 themes, language, violence 29.Jul.14

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© 2014 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall