Rover, The

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 06/25/14 14:45:47

"Perhaps too long a road."
3 stars (Average)

I went into "The Rover" already thinking about how Australia seems to churn out more than its share of post-apocalyptic movies (post-"collapse" in this case), at least among the ones worth remembering. It's probably at least partially convenience - deserts and isolated, dusty towns are not in short supply - but I also wonder if it's about being originally settled by penal colonists and worried that something ugly in the national DNA might emerge once imposed order vanishes. It's probably a foolishly presumptive idea to pursue from the other side of the Pacific, but it's also the idea at the heart of all the best movies in the genre, as well as this one's best moment.

It takes a bit of time to get to that moment, though. Things start with a man (Guy Pearce) stopping in a roadside bar for a beer, not even noticing when a truck carrying fleeing criminals Caleb (Tawanda Manyimo), Henry (Scoot McNairy), and Archie (David Field) crashes nearby. He notices when they steal his car to get away, though, and gets their truck free in order to pursue them. That doesn't work out, but his path soon crosses with Rey (Robert Pattinson), Henry's brother whom the crew left for dead.

Writer/director David Michôd (last seen working with Guy Pearce in the fantastic Animal Kingdom) tosses the audience right into things at the start, with Pearce's Eric not saying much and the others filling their story in pretty quickly amid enough noteworthy automotive stunts to give the audience the impression that this is going to be a car movie. That isn't so much the case, but Michôd and his team have started things off with admirably lean, tense action that sets the standard for how confrontations are going to go over the course of the film: It's not all cases of things being over decisively even before the audience realizes that they've gotten serious, but Michôd does make every bit of action he can afford on a fairly tight budget count; there is a point to moments of shocking violence besides cheap sensation, with every one highlighting just how lawless the environment is and what sort of ruthlessness it takes to thrive in it.

A great deal of that comes through in Guy Pearce's performance, too. A versatile actor who somehow didn't make it quite as big in Hollywood as Russell Crowe despite both arriving from Australia at about the same time, Pearce is sharp from the word go, making what could just be a simple tough guy intriguingly individual. It's his voice and posture more than any of the actual things he says; Pearce keeps Eric from being someone who commands a room naturally as opposed to someone who become worrisome once his capability for violence shows. Pearce traps into universal insecurity and fear of being taken advantage of, but also capture how sometimes the out-of-proportion response can feel even more worrisome.

In a lot of movies, Robert Pattinson might be playing the student quietly observing this unstable mentor, but Rey is no blank slate. Eric cruelly calls him a half-wit at one point, and the guy does seem mentally handicapped, but not heroically or helplessly so, and Pattinson puts a great deal of individual emotion into his mumbling, semi-slurred speech. It's an impressive performance from an actor that many justly or unjustly don't expect much from. The rest of the cast is sharp, most notably Scoot McNairy, Gillian Green, and Susan Prior.

And yet, for all that, it often feels like Michôd and company fall short of this movie's potential. This sort of movie is kind of like the western in that it's built around people who know the rule of law confronting lawlessness, and there's an absolutely fantastic moment when Pearce's Eric articulates this beautifully. It almost seems to come too early, though, as what follows just doesn't have the weight to measure up, even though it should be a wrenching, tragic tale of lost loyalty. There's also a sense that Eric's antiheroism is borrowing against the mystery of why he wants his car back so badly, and by the end, it doesn't quite make up that deficit.

It doesn't fall that far short of what it could be, and there are impressive runs when it could be one of the better post-fall movies Australia (or any place) has made. It ground me down, though, and by the end, I just wasn't mustering the enthusiasm I had through the first hour and a half.

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