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Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson in the Fierce, Suspenseful 'The Rover'

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by Caryn James
June 13, 2014 8:56 AM
1 Comment
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"The Rover" begins with the enigmatic text "10 years after the collapse," a global economic meltdown that has made electrical power and gasoline scarce,  and caused the Australian outback to seem more desolate than ever. We witness that deserted brown landscape through the eyes of Eric, played with ferocious restraint by Guy Pearce, as he sits behind the wheel of his car. His face is weather-beaten, and to say he is laconic is an understatement. When the car is stolen by thieves escaping a shootout, he purposefully hunts them down. Throughout David Michod's arresting and tense film -- part thriller, part warning of dystopia -- he strides the dust like a character from an old Western. Despite the glaring sun, Michod creates a shadowy world that forces us to sift through the moral possibilities: is Eric hero, villain, vigilante or all three?

The car is taken when Eric goes into what passes for civilization, a bar that is no more than a cinderblock shack, a dingy hole in the wall deserted by everyone except its Cambodian owners.  Apparently many Asians have fled to Australia, but so have some Americans, including Rey, who was injured and left behind to die by his own brother (Scoot McNairy) after the shootout. As Rey, Robert Pattinson continues his quest for artistic credibility, and for the first time has chosen well (David Cronenberg's flaccid "Cosmopolis" sounded better than it turned out to be).

He has brown teeth, a buzzcut and -- here is where his career choice outpaces his acting -- a mumbly accent from the American South that makes him seem like a caricature of a backwoods simpleton. Rey is not the smartest guy, and Pattinson captures his anger and sense of betrayal, but in the end can't save him from cliche. That weakness hardly matters, though, because Pearce is the magnetic center of the film. Even if Pattinson can't match his intensity, the two create a believable symbiosis as together they track down Eric's car and Rey's brother. There are guns and more shootouts and a confession that may or may not be true.


Michod (director of "Animal Kingdom," the fantastic, dark thriller about the personal dynamics in a family of criminals)  and the cinematographer Natasha Braier use the setting to good effect, as the barren outback mirrors the bleakness the economic collapse has created. As Eric and Rey track the thieves, they encounter a few other isolated people. One is strong but vulnerable: a doctor who jeopardizes her own safely to help them (Eric doesn't give her much choice). The other is immensely creepy: a neatly-dressed older woman who sits knitting in the one clean room of a squalid house, where she pimps out young boys.

It doesn't take long to realize that 'The Rover' is not really about the economy, even though Michod nudges us to consider what it means that even in the middle of nowhere,  a shopkeeper with nearly empty shelves will only accept American dollars. The film presents the desperation and violence bred from a world where actions have no consequences, a world that resembles a town in the Old West without a sheriff.

"The Rover" inevitably echoes older Australian films that rely on the vast emptiness of the land, from "Walkabout" to "Mad Max." But the taut suspense, the intelligence and the layered moral ambiguity of the film are distinctly David Michod's. 

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1 Comment

  • annoyed | July 6, 2014 6:51 AMReply

    " As Rey, Robert Pattinson continues his quest for artistic credibility" I haven't seen the film yet, just on the trailor and response I feel confident I will agree with the majority of critics that feel he already has found artistic credibility, from this film, many critics who didn't like the film, praised his acting, especially as it was also a difficult character to portray,
    Guy was praised by everyone, no negative that I have seen, but he has a few years experience on Rob, and has proved himself previously with characters like this, why Michod who worked with him on animal kingdom wrote the script with him in mind
    as for the accent this was the only critism I read , well apart from childish ones "you can cover him in dirt he's still a pretty boy" but the critism is directed at Rob not Michod? nobody questioned him why he wanted Rey to be south American not Australian like his brother?Rob said he suggested changing it, he has proved in every film he's done he doesn't have aproblem with accents, it's the directors job to judge how it comes across on film, he could have easily softened the accent, or realised some people would find it difficult,
    he has already proved himself as an actor, critics who disagreed with RM praised his acting for most it was the first character that showed he had acting chops, (hate that phrase) also in cosmopolis, I have issues with that film, but he went against the directors instruction went with his instincts, against an Oscar winner,well respected actor held his own and nailed it, fantastic performance from both of them,(cronenburg had the opportunity to make an interesting,edgy film, but chose to take everything interesting out of it)

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