Posted June 20, 2014 by Daniel Hodgson in
The Rover is dark and violent. It is the story of a bad man who will stop at nothing to get back what’s his.
That man is Eric (Guy Pearce). Eric stews over a drink in a bar, when he hears a commotion outside. A trio of bandits have stolen his car, after their truck had crashed nearby. Eric gets their truck going, and chases after them.
The big question of The Rover is what Eric’s motivation is. It’s not pragmatism. He has their truck now, so there’s no practical reason to risk life and limb getting his car back, or waste precious resources. In an apocalyptic world, a world of survival, pragmatism is a cardinal virtue.
It’s not idealism. Eric will show that he has few—if any—principles. He kills with remorse—but without hesitation.
The only answer left, then, is sentiment. Sentiment is dangerous in a world without the rule of law, and where, Eric observes, the hand of God is still. There’s nothing to stop Eric from getting what’s precious to him, and Eric will stop at nothing.
Eric finds Rey (Robert Pattinson) bleeding to death by the truck. Rey is the younger brother of Henry (Scoot McNairy), one of the bandits, who had left him behind after the robbery. Eric takes Rey to a doctor, only so that he can find out where Henry and the bandits are. Eric demands that Rey take him there, or else.
Rey believes in God, and that his brother would never have left him behind if he couldn’t help it. On the other hand, Eric is a nihilist, holding no value in himself or the world around him, with the exception of his car, and whatever makes it so special. The Rover then becomes a road trip film, with the pair traveling across the badlands of Australia, towards a violent shootout taken from a bloody Peckinpah western.
The Rover is atmospheric. You can feel the scorching heat watching the film, cut in oppressively long, meditative takes.
Pattinson delivers a strong performance as Rey, who’s somewhat mentally handicapped. His ticks and twitches are convincing, and the charismatic actor sells the character’s sweet nature. Pearce is good as the film’s bad guy. The busy actor has been doing the rounds as the villain in movies lately, such as in Seeking Justice, Lawless, and Iron Man 3. This time, he really sinks his teeth into it by acknowledging the character’s humanity, or rather, a lost humanity that he looks back on with bitterness.
The trouble, though, is that the film is about Eric, who’s morally distancing, when it needs to be about Rey. Rey has the character arc, but the goal belongs to Eric. Ideally, that person is one-and-the-same. The film’s ending answers the big question, but given how alienating Eric is, it’s a payoff as bleak as the world around him, and appropriately so.
As post-apocalyptic vision, The Rover comes closer to the gritty realism of The Road than the campiness of The Road Warrior. However, the glimmer of hope in the Cormac McCarthy adaptation is all but gone from this revenge thriller. The Rover is not a pleasant movie, not something meant to be liked or enjoyed. Instead, it’s a film meant to be appreciated for its uncompromising look at man and the end of mankind. It serves as a warning of a world to come if we allow it.