You know there has been a lot of exciting new directors that have come unto the film scene over the last few years. One of which that has stood out and really impressed me the most is Australian director David Michod, who made the amazing 2010 crime drama ANIMAL KINGDOM. The first time I saw that film I was completely blown away by it and it instantly became my number 1 of that year (not only that, it’s also my pick as the best film of this decade so far). It was truly fantastic debut for David Michod and made me excited about what he was going to do next. After a four year break, he is back with his sophomore film THE ROVER. Did this film manage to live up to my very high expectations? well, you’ll have to keep reading on to find out!
Set in a dystopian Australia 10 years after an event that shook the world called ‘the Collapse’, a mysterious loner named Eric (Guy Pearce) travels from town to town in the outback in his prized possession: his car. One day while stopping to get a drink at a bar, a gang of criminals (Scoot McNairy, David Field, Tawanda Manyimo) steal his car and drive off. Eric decides to go after them and get it back from them. Along the way he meets a simple minded young man named Rey (Robert Pattinson), who just happens to be the younger brother of one of the thieves that he is chasing. Knowing that he will know where they are hiding out, Eric takes Rey hostage and they set off on a dangerous road trip to retrieve his car.
I’m not going to lie: the first time I read the synopsis for this film, I was absolutely hooked right away. The fact that it was going to be set in a dystopian future definitely peaked my interest and I was excited to see what writer/director David Michod was going to do with it. Now having seen the film, I must it admit that I was a bit disappointed by it. Don’t get wrong it’s not a bad film at all, far from it. In fact for what it is, it’s still a really good and engaging film that once again showcases once how much a terrific talent Michod is. But as a follow-up to ANIMAL KINGDOM, it wasn’t as great as it could have been (I guess my expectations may have been way too high). That being said, there are a lot of great things about the film. Michod does a truly terrific job with direction. He builds a dark, gritty, violent but very believable view of what Australia would look like in a dystopian future. Since the story takes place entirely in the dusty back roads of outback, it gives the film that ‘other worldly’ feeling that great Aussie films of the past were able to achieve. Plus Michod knows how to build tension and there are some brilliantly directed scenes that really put me on the edge of my seat at times. He brings so much skill to every single scene in this film that it just feels effortless.
One of the things that I really liked about the film, is that we never really find out what ‘the Collapse’ is or what has been happening in Australia since it happened. Some people might be really annoyed that it’s never explained but for me personally, I found it really refreshing that a film like this doesn’t delve into it. Let’s be honest the film isn’t interested doing that, instead it wants to focus on the story it is telling. Although, we do get some interesting hints here and there about how things have changed since that event (instead of Australia money, American money is our main currency). These small aspects definitely hint at a much larger picture and while I would have liked to seen more of that, but it wasn’t important for the film to explore that anyway (it still gives us an idea about how Australia is affected in this future, some of which does give off a MAD MAX vibe). But for most part, the film is actually a road film that has two compelling characters at the centre of it in both “Eric” & “Rey”.
Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson give great performances as these two characters. Pearce, whose almost unrecognisable here, really inhabits the role of “Eric”. While we only get hints of his character’s back story, but he brings so much intensity to him that I was riveted every time he was onscreen. Pattinson does a great job as well as “Eric”. It’s a role that, if it wasn’t approached the right way, it could have easily stumbled into cliche. But luckily Pattinson brings a naive innocence to the character that makes us sympathetic towards him. Plus his character’s emotional journey was surprisingly heartbreaking as well. The supporting cast all did solid job with their roles too but the one that stood put the most to me was Gillian Jones, who gives a chilling performance as a character named “Grandma”. Also the cinematography by Natasha Braier is terrific. There’s a lot of great shots though out the film but there’s one in the first 15 minutes, that might one of my favourite shots I’ve seen so far this year (you’ll know which one it is when you see it). The score by Anthony Partos is both truly original and haunting, the production/costume design was great and the sound design is superb.
However I must admit that even though there are a lot of things that I liked about the film, there’s also some other stuff that I felt stopped it from being as great as it could have been. While the first 50 minutes is both compelling and brilliantly done, unfortunately by the hour mark the film started to become less engaging and I started to lose a bit of interested in it. It didn’t help that the film can be a bit slow paced at times (although I will admit that I saw the film at a early morning screening and I was pretty tired, so that in a way may have affected my viewing of it). Also I found the ending to be weak and predictable. It’s the kind of ending that’s either going to make or break with a lot of people, personally I thought it was pretty underwhelming. I won’t be surprised to see people being pissed off with it. The film spends its time building up to it but by the time it delivers, all you can is “Is that it?!” I have an idea of what Michod was going for, but for me it just didn’t work. It feels like it would have been more effective in a short film than a feature length one. Plus while the script by Michod (which is a from a story that he came up with actor Joel Edgerton) is pretty solid but I wish that could have done just a little bit more with it.
Overall while THE ROVER didn’t quite live up to my expectations (I need to stop over hyping myself) but it’s still a reasonably engaging and well made film. Its definitely one that I really want to check out again soon, to see how I truly feel about it on a second watch (I was actually thinking about not writing my review on it until after I saw it again but at the last second, I decided write it anyway). I think that if you go in expecting it to be as truly great as ANIMAL KINGDOM was, you might be disappointed. But if you keep your expectations in check and take it for what it is, I think you’ll definitely enjoy it. It won’t be for everyone, but it’s definitely worth a watch nonetheless.
– Bede Jermyn