The Rover is a tale of opposites. Parts of it are careful while others are downright dangerous. It’s meandering and focused, deadly silent and , at times, shockingly loud. It’s a movie that swings from gruesome violence to things so utterly strange that it almost becomes laugh out loud funny (I think it’s intentional).
In his follow-up to the Australian gangster family drama Animal Kingdom, director David Michôd’s dystopian tale begins with an accident. Ten years after an unexplained economic collapse, Australia has transformed into an outlaw country. Supplies (ranging from food and fuel to medicine) are in demand, and a litany of crimes (e.g. murder, stealing, and prostitution) run rampant. Three men named Archie (David Field), Caleb (Tawanda Manyimo), and Henry (Scoot McNairy) are fleeing from an undisclosed crime in their pickup truck when they get in an accident. Uninjured, all three men hop in the nearest car and continue their getaway. Eric (Guy Pearce), whose car they’ve stolen, is beyond angry and jumps into their abandoned truck, in an attempt to chase them down. When he finally reaches them on the road, there is a confrontation and Eric is left unconscious with their truck.
When Eric wakes up, he drives to the nearest town, asking if anyone has seen the men with his car. Eventually, he run into Henry’s brother, Rey (Robert Pattinson). Caleb, Archie, and Henry left Rey for dead before stealing Eric’s car, so Eric and Rey begrudgingly team up to find the trio and enact their revenge.
I must admit, this may be Robert Pattinson’s best role to date; after the Twilight fiasco, he’s proving a capable actor. While he does well as the glassy eyed businessman in Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, Rey is bursting with character. From his stuttered speech, his many tics, and his ability to veer from pure bravado to utter cowardice, Pattinson does an absolutely fantastic job portraying the slightly off balance (and put off) younger brother. In fact, he easily outshines Guy Pearce in most (if not all) of their scenes together.
Pattinson’s twitchy and overtalkitive acting is a perfect complement to Michôd’s devastating cinematography and soundtrack. The Outback has never looked as desolate as it does during The Rover’s wide shots (this is a harsh landscape like 2005’s The Proposition, also starring Pearce). Likewise, the emptiness and foreboding nature of the wilderness is compounded by Antony Partos’ excellent score.
There is a scene where all of this perfectly comes together. Rey and Eric are walking toward the car when, suddenly, Partos’ score stops and is replaced by Keri Hilson’s “Pretty Girl Rock.” After 30 uncomfortably strange seconds, we see Rey sitting in the car in the dead of the night, blasting Hilson’s tune and mumbling along to the line “Don’t hate me ‘cus I’m beautiful…” It’s a scene so strange and sudden, that I was caught between thinking there was a mistake with the audio in the theater and trying not to burst out loud laughing. A couple minutes later, I was watching a series of men being gruesomely murdered. It’s just that kind of movie.