THE ROVER (2014)
Review by Paul McMahon – The Distracted Critic
My attention span isn’t what it should be. As such, I rarely watch a movie from start to finish. If the action drags, if I start to feel antsy, I’ll pause it and walk away. I tally those “time outs” at the end of the column, so you’ll know how often the movie is likely to bore you. That is, if you’re anything like me. –The Distracted Critic
THE ROVER opened with one of the most encouraging signs in motion pictures these days. The production card for A24. This production company has had its hand in quite a few of the more intriguing and better-than-Hollywood films over the past few years. Some of their more talked about films have been: THE VVITCH, GREEN ROOM, and THE LOBSTER from 2015; MOONLIGHT, SWISS ARMY MAN, and THE MONSTER from 2016; and IT COMES AT NIGHT, A GHOST STORY, and THE DISASTER ARTIST, so far this year.
The movie itself opens with the title card: Australia 10 years after. “After what?” is never answered, nor is it particularly important to this story.
The first images are of the barren Australian desert. Eric (Guy Pearce, LA CONFIDENTIAL, 1997, and RAVENOUS, 1999) is sitting in his car, brooding. (Total honesty, though, his name could be anything because it is never spoken in the movie. I’m only calling him Eric because that’s what IMDb tells me his name is. Ahem.) It’s plainly obvious Eric is not happy. After a bit more sweaty brooding, he gets out and heads into what looks like a garage, but turns out to be a bar with a very loud speaker tower and only two other men inside, neither of them all that interested in him.
We cut to another car interior. This one is carrying three panicking, screaming men. The driver, Caleb (Tawanda Manyimo, GHOST IN THE SHELL, 2017), is all, “We killed people! We killed people!”, while in the passenger seat, Henry (Scoot McNairy, MONSTERS, 2010), who is nursing a bullet wound, is all, “My brother wasn’t dead! We left him behind!”, and in the back seat, Archie (David Field, THESE FINAL HOURS, 2013), calmly and rationally explains why Henry’s brother was a useless waste of skin who deserved to get killed. Henry tries to leap into the backseat to fight Archie, Caleb screams and loses control, and the car rolls over.
Cue quite a spectacular shot of Eric, nursing a drink in the dark bar, while a dust ball with the rolling car in the center glides past the bright picture window behind him. Honestly, the cinematography in this movie is fantastic. Anyway, the two others in the bar race outside to stare.
In the wreck, the beat up and bleeding passengers are amazed that their car has landed on its wheels. It has stopped on top of haphazard pile of wires and metal hoops, and is now completely hung up. Archie climbs out, runs across the road to Eric’s car, hotwires it, and calls his buddies over. By the time Eric realizes something’s amiss and comes out of the bar to see what’s up, they’re tearing down the road in his car.
Eric gets in the bad guys’ car. He jimmies the transmission hard enough to make any experienced driver cringe and curl their fingers, but the car finally pulls itself free. Seconds later, he’s gunning the thing up the road and closing in on his car. You get the impression that these three just crossed the wrong bad wire. There’s an interesting chase scene, involving guns, which ends at a standstill in the middle of the road while Eric asks for his car back. The bad guys refuse. Even with all the bad guys armed and Eric having proven himself the kind of badass that’s going to cause them problems, they knock Eric unconscious and leave him on the side of the road with their old car.
We cut away from Eric being popped on the noggin and switch to the face of a filthy man with a gaping wound in his neck, laboring for breath. It’s a stunning move, and makes us wonder for a moment if we’ve missed something. Then the image flips to the filthy face the dying man is staring at. This new face is Rey (Robert Pattinson, Cedric Diggory in the HARRY POTTER franchise and Edward Cullen in the TWILIGHT franchise), who’s awake and gathering strength. Rey climbs to his feet and we realize he must be Henry’s brother because… he has a matching bullet wound, I guess. Rey gets in a waiting Humvee and races off while the soundtrack devolves into what sounds like a blind man desperately swinging his cane in a room full of hollow metal barrels. Almost immediately, the Humvee pulls off the road near a cluster of weathered buildings. Rey stumbles out, limps to a tree, and sinks to the ground.
Eric wakes on the side of the road, rises, re-starts the bad guys’ car (they’ve been nice enough to leave him the keys, as well), and chases after them. He stops when he comes to a cluster of weathered buildings. He starts asking about car with three people in it, but he can’t get an answer from “Grandma” (Gillian Jones, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, 2015), so he decides to buy a gun.
He wanders some more and finds three men playing chess in a kitchen. One of them, annoyed at the game, throws a temper tantrum, tosses the board, and storms out, grabbing Eric’s hand as he goes. What follows is the first movie event since THE USUAL SUSPECTS in 1995 that made my jaw completely unhinge and left me gaping at the screen.
Eric returns to “Grandma” with a gun and demands to know if she’s seen a car with three people in it. She laughs at him, gun and all, and says “You must really love that car, darling.”
Anyway… by the time Eric decides to drive away and resume his chase, Rey is leaning against the car, demanding to know where his brother is and why some stranger is driving his brother’s car around. Eric sees an opportunity, stuffs Rey in the car, a hostage who knows where the bad guys are going.
Director David Michod wrote this with Joel Edgerton, who appeared in 2015’s BLACK MASS as John Connolley. It’s a fairly solid tale. There’s some poorly thought out “writerly shenanigans,” like the bad guys leaving Eric alive and able to chase them despite already establishing that they’ve “killed people.” Or like the movie magic of Rey and Eric coincidentally bumping into each other in the same small cluster of weathered buildings. None of these quite shatter the spell of the movie, though.
This is a quiet film, punctuated by sudden and graphic clangs of violence. The soundtrack is weird, but it keeps to itself for the most part, only insinuating its eccentricity over the visuals on occasion.
Guy Pearce, who has an impressive body of work, plays Eric like a deer in headlights throughout the film. The stoic part isn’t a problem, as that’s who this character is, but half the time he looks like he’s anxiously awaiting his next cue, and the other half of the time he looks like he’s trying to remember his lines. Robert Pattinson plays a slow-witted imbecile here, and he does a very convincing job of it—and I mean that honestly, not as a snide back-handed compliment. He’s got some real acting chops that have been frosted over with his less complicated high-profile movie series roles. If he keeps picking strong and unusual movies like this one, I think he could be looking at industry respect before too long.
Anyway… this definitely came off as a “Your mileage may vary” type of film. For me, it landed solidly in the center of the point scale, but I wouldn’t be surprised if others either loved it or hated it. Either way, you’re going to have to see it to make up your own mind.
Admit it, though. You kind of want to know why Eric loves that car so much.
I give THE ROVER two and a half knives
and two time-outs.
© Copyright 2017 by Paul McMahon