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The Rover PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sheila Seacroft   
20 09 2014
ImageDirected by David Michôd

It's ‘10 years after the Catastrophe', we're told, and grizzled lone driver Eric (Guy Pierce), stopping off for supplies in a bleak landscape, finds his car stolen by a group of fear-crazed, desperate men when their own breaks down. They're escaping from a violent encounter where the young brother of one of them has been shot and left for dead. On his unrelenting chase to get it back Eric finds and takes along the injured brother, Rey (Robert Pattinson), beginning a strange relationship that veers from the cynical to the protective, in a desperate and violent hunt that is never going to end well.

Civilisation has broken down and fuel and supplies are at a premium, in a barren land where people live in the grimy remains of habitations, and nothing much happens. Roads are almost empty and only a hugely long, heavily guarded goods train passing and a few trigger-happy cops indicate that there is some kind of organisation, somewhere. It's Mad Max bereft of its testosterone kick. The men - and they are mostly men -are clapped out, their violence compulsive and desperate, without relish or energy. In roadside joints selling oil, drugs, basic supplies, sex, they lounge, listless and purposeless. Violence is merely their default mode. What fuels Eric's deadly rage we don't really learn until well into the film, but he also is clearly sharing in the general moral malaise following the unspecified disaster that has occurred.

And if we sympathise at first with Eric, the apparently reasonable man, as victim, we soon lose our illusions when he wearily slaughters a young gun seller who won't bring his price down far enough. Only through Robert Pattinson's naive Rey do we get any hope that decent impulses might still exist. They make a good pair - in contrast to Pierce's intelligent and controlled ways, Pattinson's shambling, juddery movement and stuttering speech show a mind not altogether there, his character and physical profile as blunt as Pierce's is sharp and controlled. But his humanity seems closer to ours in his capacity to escape into a past of memories which are beyond the older man's.

The women that remain are the only custodians of any kind of civilisation: one a granny sitting in her well-preserved cosy room knitting and selling her grandson's body to survive; the other a doctor who at least feels altruism and helps others, but all under the protection of her gun.

After Animal Kingdom, nothing much from Australian director David Michod could be more despairing - you think? But here, moving from the jungle of suburbia to the apocalyptic deserts of the outback the mood is equally hopeless, and Michôd's vision is powerful. But far less so is the plotting. It's a bit too easy when the gang's car starts up for Eric after they've abandoned it, and it's hard to reconcile his efficient, implacable purpose with somewhat uncharacteristic decisions towards the end, particularly those that lead to the final tragic showdown. (Would any straight-thinking person give such life and death responsibility to the jittery and inexperienced Rey?) Worst of all is the final explanation of his single-minded fervour to regain the car, bathetic in the extreme. But the real star, as in so many of Australia's recent films, in tune perhaps with these anxious times, is the palette and texture of the outback with its grey-beiges, its long straight roads and unforgiving soil.

Seen at Tyneside cinema, August 2014

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