The Rover review

David Michôd‘s follow up to his breakout critical hit, the 2010 crime saga Animal Family, is filled with even more dread, violence and bleakness.

The Rover is set in an Australia of the future and opens with a title card that tells us we’re “Ten Years After the Collapse.” It’s never entirely clear what that collapse consisted of but it certainly left the country ravaged and in the intervening decade, a culture fuelled by desperation has taken over.

We’re quickly introduced to the central character of Eric (Guy Pearce), who promptly loses his car to three desperate fugitives, played by Scoot McNairy, Tawanda Manyimo & David Field. Eric gives chase in another car for a wonderfully tense action sequence. He seems forever on the verge of catching up and ramming the car thieves, but they always manage to elude him.

This is a chase set-up we’ve seen plenty of times before but Michod still manages to make it almost stressful to watch. The sequence also ends in a rather unusual manner, lacking the familiar pay-offs we have come to expect.

But unfortunately, the film doesn’t live up to this electric opening. Eric continues his pursuit of the stolen car, soon teaming up with Rey, a simple man played by Robert Pattinson in a most surprising performance. Rey becomes the heart of the film and Pattinson carries the weight well, ably conveying a real sense of childish naivety and feebleness.

One moment in which Rey sings somewhat mournfully along to Keri Hilson‘s Pretty Girl Rock sounds like it would be a disaster but is the only emotionally affecting scene in the film.

For most of the film, it’s not made clear why Eric is so dogged in chasing down the fugitives to get back his car – for one thing, he gets other cars throughout – and when his motivations come into focus in the movie’s final moments, the late explanation lacks any weight. Having already guessed what was going on I found that this final reveal played like a weak punchline to a joke that went on far too long.

But there’s pleasure to be found in the craft. Michod certainly knows what he’s doing as a director, cinematographer Natasha Braier shoots the film with a degree of bleak beauty and the score from Anthony Partos mixes with the sound design in an effective manner.

I could pull at tufts that appear throughout the film and wax lyrical about the representation of a harsh environment breeding harsh characters, or on the soullessness of violence and the pointlessness of revenge and so on, but I would be projecting somewhat. These themes may be relevent to the film but they aren’t being explored on the screen.

So while The Rover is a well made film, it all amounts to very little. There’s not much to engage with, so the film follows its suspenseful opening scenes with a trudging plod to the finish. The Rover is not a bad film but it’s certainly a disappointing experience and at just over one hundred minutes, seems to really outstay its welcome.

The Rover opens in New York and LA on June 13th. The UK release is set for August 15th.