Australian writer and director David Michod's "The Rover" is the bleakest film I've seen this year by far. It is merciless, a grim tale that is both magnetic and head scratching at the same time. There are issues with the narrative, but the lead performances and grittiness are enthralling. The score by Antony Partos also adds to the deeply unsettling nature of this film. Cinema is rarely so menacing and provocative. The Rover is sure to invoke visceral reactions from audiences.
The Rover takes place in the Australian outback years after a global economic collapse. Eric, a disheveled and matted Guy Pearce, parks his little Nissan outside a dilapidated bar. As he settles down for a drink, a car crashes nearby. Three thieves (Tawando Manyimo, Scoot McNary, and David Field) on the run from a botched heist, abandon their vehicle, then steal Eric's car. What happens next is a murderous, twisted, unrelenting search by Eric to recover his prized vehicle. Along the way he comes across the injured Rey (Robert Pattinson), an accomplice and younger brother of the man that stole his car.
The relationship between Rey and Eric is fascinating. Rey is mentally challenged, a half-wit, according to Eric. Rey, in a career best performance from Robert Pattinson, struggles to understand his place in the world. As Eric uses Rey and keeps him alive to find his brother's gang, he essentially becomes Rey's mentor. Eric is spectacularly lethal, a quiet, ruthless character. Rey develops a deep respect and liking for Eric. He offers Rey guidance, purpose, frames his situation in ways he can understand. The pair become a bizarre team on the odyssey of recovering the stolen car.
The world portrayed in The Rover is nightmarish. The economic collapse has turned society into anarchy. There is a military presence in the story, but they exist purely for their own needs. Murder is a casual occurrence. If you want something from someone else, kill and it's yours without penalty. Rey and Eric's foreboding search reveals the darkest parts of the human soul. Michod and cinematographer Natasha Braier succeed in portraying a time beyond desperation. It's unnerving to say the least.
The title of the film has many meanings. It's fairly obvious what Eric is searching for in the opening act. This knowledge does not detract from the film. My primary issue is the lack of exposition. The audience is dropped into the story and meant to infer what led to this awful outcome. This is Michod's goal, for you to wonder, but I feel the film could have been much better if there was more to fill in the substantial void. Guy Pearce continues to be one of my favorite actors. His depth and range as an actor is tremendous. He and Robert Pattinson are excellent here. The Rover is that desired bit of sour in a summer full of cinematic fluff.
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