Australia is well known as one of the wealthiest countries in the world and rightly so because it is has the world’s 12th-largest economy and the fifth-highest per capita income and generally a nice place with what seems to be great weather. Experiences with cinema however have painted a different picture of the land down under. Offerings like the Mad Max trilogy and The Proposition have painted a dreary and unforgiving picture of the country and writer-director David Michod’s latest film, The Rover goes some way to shore up that perception with another bleak and sanguinary depiction.
It is said a bulk of the Australian inhabitants live closer to the coast because there are a million ways to be killed inland and it is in these very punishing desert inlands Michod’s drama takes place 10 years after “the collapse”. As to whether it is worldwide collapse or just one restricted to Australia, we are not sure but it doesn’t matter to the characters on screen, the deprivation is all too real for them. The land has the look of a scorching ghost town and not even a ball of tumbleweed can call the place home. No one there uses Australian currency anymore with the American dollar and perhaps violence the only legal tender.
The plot revolves around a man called Eric played by Guy Pearce and we first see him stop for a drink at what passes for a pub. We immediately gather from his dead eyes staring into the distance and the hardened mask of a face he wears that he is not a man to be crossed but that is precisely what happens when a group of apparent robbers steal his car after abandoning theirs. He jumps into their own abandoned vehicle and he chases after them in attempt to get his car back but fails to get them in that instant. That is nothing but a stumble for him though, and he continues his relentless pursuit of his car into the desert. We are naturally wondering why this car is so important to him and our sentiments are soon echoed by an old lady Eric meets in what at first appears to be some sort of crack house but after learning more we come to wish it was an actual crack house for the sake of those there. The lady, with icy calm despite a pointed gun to her head asks him “what is it about the car you love so much?” Eric has no answer in that moment.
The car thieves include Henry (Scoot McNairy) who is American and this detail probably hints at the collapse being worldwide if he has left the US to seek respite in this barren land. Henry’s brother, Rey (Robert Pattison) becomes Eric’s travel companion later on after being separated from his brother and the rest of the party. Eric is reluctant about the whole thing but they both want to find Henry for different reasons and decide this temporary partnership will be mutually beneficial. Their journey is marked with periodic eruptions of violence that are timed well enough to not feel superfluous. Every one appears to be waiting for something to happen, maybe things to get better but it never does. It’s just more violence and bloodshed.
One of the more impressive features of this film for me is the desert backdrop dystopia is created by the film makers. We are presented with a portrait of broken world fitting of the tag “the collapse”. We feel the punishing heat and smell the filth through our characters as they travel across the terrain to reach their goals. I however didn’t feel like we effectively got to see the extent to which this socio economic hell rubbed off on the characters. Eric we can tell has been moulded by this world and Rey looks like a man trying to fit in but was alas born after his time and should have no part in it. Pattison’s character plays like a semi invalid with twitchy mannerisms and he seems unsure at every point. Pattison puts a good showing here as he continues his post Twilight career. He evokes some sympathy from Eric and the audience even though there are times he appears to be over selling his performance with the “Spider” like murmurings and head bumping.
Writer-director David Michôd’s bright debut Animal Kingdom also depicts tainted characters although in more cosy and urban environs. He collaborates again with Joel Edgerton who shares writing credits here. For some like me, the major selling point of The Rover will be the bleak and extremely violent vision of earthly hell in a dystopian future. The impressive opening isn’t maintained and the film starts to fizzle out slowly despite the reveals that draw us into Eric’s dark past. All things considered it is still an imaginative and credible sophomore outing by the Australian director.