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The Rover

tn_roverYou know what I realized? I don’t love minimalism. I don’t hate it either, and I think it’s funny to watch normal people get upset and confused by one of these slow, quiet, ambiguous takes on what usually would be genre material. It’s not for everybody. But some of these things are real artful, and when they’re really rolling the relative lack of movie artifice helps get a potent atmosphere and tone and feel going like nothing else. But to be honest at the end when they wrap up they don’t usually feel like a full experience to me. They’re not usually my favorites, or things I’d want to watch again. But as far as they go, THE ROVER is a real good one.

I don’t mean to diminish it. I liked it and I’m pretty sure some of you will love it. I just thought it would be better to start on that thought than to end on it. And also I want to warn you not to watch this late at night after work like I did. It is fair for filmatists to expect full day time awakeness levels from their viewers, and writer/director David Michod here has earned it ’cause he’s the guy that did ANIMAL KINGDOM. (A co-story credit goes to Joel Edgerton, although he’s not in the movie as an actor.)


THE ROVER is the slow, quiet, ambiguous MAD MAX. I know, THE ROAD already kinda was that, but this is arguably less eventful while more like MAD MAX ’cause it’s in Australia and if you think about it it plays with a few of the specific elements of Max Rockatansky’s story in ways I shouldn’t get into because giving away too much about a movie where not much happens is just cruel.

mp_roverGuy Pearce plays a dude apparently named Eric who is, I suppose, roving, and stops at a little shack with some Chinese dudes in it that qualifies as a bar in “Australia 10 Years After the Collapse.” He’s just minding his own business, doesn’t even notice when a car with three dudes (Scoot McNairy, Tawanda Manyimo, David Field) fleeing from a crime happens to crash right outside. They see his car parked out there so they jack it and take off.

I love this scene because the bar owners come out with guns and he comes out and he thinks about it and then he decides what to do is get in the abandoned truck so they watch as he keeps trying to drive it. And indeed he eventually gets it unstuck and chases after them. And nobody says anything.

There is chasing and shooting and confronting, but they get away from him so most of the movie is less a high speed chase and more a leisurely follow. He finds Rey (Robert Pattinson), who is the brother of McNairy’s character Henry, who was part of the crew until he got shot and those chumps left him bleeding in the street. Eric sort of takes Rey prisoner to help track his brother, but along the way they kinda become partners. Like 48 HOURS with less jokes and racism.

I like this type of story, the relentless pursuit of something that not everybody understands the importance of. A box of weapons in NINJA, $70,000 in PAYBACK, the statue head in ONG BAK or baby elephant in THE PROTECTOR. Here it’s a car, but not an Interceptor or anything cool or fixed up. Just a car a mom would drive her kids to school in or whatever. It’s just special to him, or it’s his and it’s the principle or something. We don’t know. That’s sort of the beauty of it is not having everything explained right away, if ever.

This is a post-apocalypse that’s not about looking cool. Nobody has moved on to the mohawk or shoulder pads stages yet, or even the dusters and goggles. You’re more likely to see jeans and t-shirts. Everybody seems to wear ugly but practical athletic shoes. Lots of shorts, too, and I believe Eric wears cut-offs. Kinda dorky looking, but it makes sense, it looks pretty hot out there.

Admittedly what I’m telling you is that this is a MAD MAX movie with most of the fun stuff taken out. I can’t deny the truth of that. But it mostly works. If there’s one element that most makes the movie worth watching it’s Pearce, who sports filthy hair and beard and a gorilla-like scowl. He’s grim and angry and hardly talks, but a little more like a bitter homeless guy than a Man With No Name. He distinguishes himself from the villains by having some sense of guilt for things he’s done, but man is he not ready to be fucked with. When he blows a little person’s head off just to steal his guns you gotta question if he’s exactly the good guy.

We eventually find out a little about him, and how a world with no accountability has turned him into this confused drifter. Or rover. Not a flashback, he just explains it to a guy at one point. I guess we just should’ve asked him in the first place.

Pattinson is good too, playing kind of a redneck dipshit, I couldn’t tell if he was supposed to be a little bit mentally deficient or just a tweaker. But he’s a knucklehead who has a boyish sense of loyalty that makes you feel sorry for him and let him be on the team. I wouldn’t say he’s a funny character overall, but I did laugh when he was in the car rambling about how much he likes to sit quietly with someone and not talk.

Along the way there are many colorful people they run into, such as an intimidating old lady that runs an opium den (played by Gillian Jones, who’s gonna be in FURY ROAD also). There are some soldiers around, as if somebody’s trying to keep order in the world, but they seem to be bad news. We find out they don’t care too much about the law, they just try to periodically send prisoners to the boys in Sydney so their paychecks will keep coming.

Eric and Rey are ruthless, handling their business like spaghetti western badasses, but it’s not without consequences. They don’t run into many innocent people on their trip, but more than one of them die as a result of their actions.

I hope this isn’t the only direction Michod will be headed in, but it’s another strong showing from the up and coming Australian. I look forward to seeing what he does next. Hopefully not a realistic version of Thunderdome.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 24th, 2014 at 12:29 pm and is filed under Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

18 Responses to “The Rover”

  1. isn’t the car the Rover?

  2. This movie is full of great atmosphere and sports a handful of really effective scenes, but in the end I couldn’t get past that it seems to think it’s a lot deeper than I thought it was. Ultimately, the big reveal about why this is all happening kind of annoyed me, I get that the point is that it’s kind of meaningless and nihilistic, but I just don’t buy that Pearce’s character would do everything he does for the reason they give. In a moment of sheer rage, sure, you’ll do some crazy violent things. But only a total psychopath would go to the lengths that Pearce does (particularly all the innocent people he kills), and the movie doesn’t seem ready to present him that way. They seem to see him as a kind of amoral anti-hero with a basic center of decency, but by the time the movie was over I thought he was a total monster, the movie’s villain.

    It’s an assured, well-made movie, but it ended up being a little unsatisfying. I’d have preferred if they’d left it a bit more ambiguous, keep the reason he cares so much about the car a mystery.

  3. Glad you liked this, Vern. I really enjoyed it. There was a lot of hype here in the UK about Pattinson’s performance, but I thought Pearce was terrific in it. I had a weird double reaction at the end (no spoilers). First, it made me burst into tears (that sort of thing does get to me though, to be fair). Second, I laughed – did the ending reveal the meaning of the title, or was that just an unfortunate coincidence? I dunno how we can talk about this without spoilerising, though!

  4. SPOILING WITH SPOILERS. Please be advised.

    Mr. Subtlety – But don’t you think when we find out what he did right before the downfall that means he is a psychopath? Yes, a crime of passion and everything but he was a murderer and that was before 10 years of post-apocalyptic rovery. So

    Suzerino – I definitely think the pun was intentional, but on the other hand it’s not really a movie that seems to have a sense of humor. So I’m not totally sure how to take it. I just think it had to be intentional.

  5. SPOILIN’ SPOILERS ************************************************************** NO SERIOUSLY TURN BACK, THIS IS THE ACTUAL END OF THE MOVIE

    Vern — I mean, in real life, yeah. But the movie really seems to kinda be on his side; I think the suggestion is that it wasn’t so much that he was a psycho killer and so he killed his wife, but that when he killed her and nothing happened to punish him it fucked up his whole idea that there was any justice in the world, and hence he became an unstable roving rover, etc. His first kill was a crime of passion, but it was in losing faith in karma that turned him the way he is now. But the whole idea that he’s so interested in giving his dog a decent burial (and that he eventually comes around to liking Robert Pattinson) seems to suggest there’s some kind of goodness in him, motivating him to try and do something right. I think that’s supposed to be the whole irony, that he did all this awful stuff in the pursuit of something kind of sweet, wanting to give his last friend a decent farewell. But that’s the part I don’t really buy, I guess; someone who has crossed the lines he has (repeatedly and egregiously) eventually kinda loses my sympathy and my ability to believe they’re fundamentally good. At best, he’s just a murderous psychopath trying dimly to remember what human feelings were like. He’s an awful guy and so it doesn’t sit right with me that the movie tries to give him pathos and closure right at the end.

    On the other hand, maybe that’s not the movie’s intent, maybe the last scene is just supposed to be horrifying and nihilistic, kind of an oh Jesus, even after all that we didn’t realize quite how fucked up this guy is kinda thing. I guess it’s sort of ambiguous, but it sure seemed to me like the movie is ultimately sympathetic (at least on some level) to Mr. Rover in a way I wasn’t able to get behind. I like the movie overall, but that twist rubbed me the wrong way. I was with him when he was just a cold-blooded killer in a cruel world, that’s cool. But I do object to being told that it was all a big misunderstanding right at the end, he’s actually a tragic figure, poor guy. It feels like a cop out, unearned by the preceding events and out of sync with what he’s done.

  6. SPOILERS AHEAD

    I get what you mean about minimalism Vern. My thing about THE ROVER is like… I can dig on naturalistic minimalism, but this really affected and showy kind that’s just sort of a quiet and deconstructed version of good old fashioned genre stuff, it doesn’t crank my motor unless it’s got something else going for it. THE ROVER’s characters have to be extremely narrow to fit the specific mood that the film sets its mind on, and the result is that it never surprises me… until the surprise ending, which I did enjoy as a glib joke, but being a glib joke means it’s necessarily limiting as well.

    There’s some things to like about it though, and I could see myself watching it again just to try and look at it from a different angle. The costuming is great – Pearce’s guy looks like he was probably a yuppie turd before the collapse, and that makes sense considering how he sentimentalizes animals. I love the look of Pattinson’s guy, that ill-fitting t-shirt and institutional looking buzzcut are perfect character touches. Pattinson’s performance was a little bit too much for my taste and I would’ve loved if my boy Scoot McNairy swapped roles with him. I think Pattinson could’ve played retarded OR southern, but trying both was putting too much on his plate. But he did have maybe my favorite scene in the film, when he just sits in a car listening to Keri Hilson.

    Back to the characters for a second, you mention the scene where Pearce kills a dwarf for his gun. Well he killed the dwarf because he threw a rock at a dog, but you don’t realize that until after the movie. I really disliked that scene because the film’s so dead set on showing Pearce as this primal, rageful embodiment of elemental violence that it couldn’t show him doing something small and petty like taking all of the dwarf’s guns. To me that’s the best example of the film sacrificing human moments to make everything fit into a predetermined mold.

    Instead of comparing it to THE PROPOSITION, which is natural but a bit obvious, I’m gonna say that one recent movie that reminded me of THE ROVER was THE DROP with Tom Hardy and Gandolfini. I respected THE ROVER more because it didn’t soft-pedal its main character – there’s never any point where the movie really tries to trick you into liking Pearce – but I thought they did a few things similarly.

  7. Mr. Subtelty – I read it the latter way, as the movie saying Wow this guy’s a SUPER fucked up psycho now that we know this information about what’s in his trunk.

  8. I wonder if this is what the future will really be like

  9. The more I think about this film, the more brilliant it becomes.

    SPOILERS GALORE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    The Rover is a world that revolves around paper money and how that has corrupted people. In the scene at the doctor’s house, Eric sits looking at dogs that are caged inside a room. The doctor tells of how they were dropped off by families who never returned because they were out looking for money. Which is a nice parallel to how Rey was left by his brother and their accomplices after he had been shot.
    Which comes to a bigger point (Super Spoiler!!!), Rey is like a wild dog which Eric domesticates and comes to care for greatly by the end. He takes Rey in and essentially domesticates him. He is extremely loyal and trusting. He is frightened easily (the motel scene where he responds violently to a knock on the door). He is protective of his master (his retrieval of Eric after he has been captured by the police). And so on and so on…I mean, look at the poster in the article. Rey is perched like a dog. Which is why the reveal of why Eric had such a desire to retrieve his car. The ability to love the dog and Rey is what is left of his humanity.
    I also think it is easy to write Eric off as a psychopath. True he committed a heinous murder. And he does say he felt no remorse. But he does say what bothered him is that no one cared to find him. To punish him. Because it was at the time of the collapse, no one cared. Like the dogs in the shelter, he too was forgotten about. All while others are searching for something as trivial as paper money. Because, in this film’s worldview, people place more value money than they do in one another.

  10. I like that, Braypocalypse. Good observations.

  11. That’s a cool reading, Bray. Definitely didn’t pic up on the Rey as dog thing, seems so obvious now that you point it out.

  12. Spoilers, of course:

    Pierce’s sentimental attachment to dogs reminded me of a reoccuring element from the TV show The Sopranos. Throughout the series, it’s established that Tony Soprano has a soft spot for animals. It’s used to humanize him from time to time. But in the last episode there’s a conversation between Tony’s psychiatrist and her colleague where it’s suggested that psychopaths tend to express a high regard for animals. So it’s suggested that Tony’s love for animals is really just how he humanizes himself to others and to himself, I guess.

    I don’t know if The Rover is acting under the same assumptions, but Pierce’s devotion to his dog might merely be a way to justify himself as a decent human being, despite the fact that he’s done so many terrible things. It’s his way of saying to himself, “I can’t be all bad if I have this affection for dogs.” I actually enjoyed this film even better than Animal Kingdom. It reminded me of a just a really well told short story, which is refreshing when so many movies want to be the five-hundred page novel.

  13. This might be a silly and obvious reaching for a metaphor that isn’t there(and I haven’t seen THE ROVER yet but I’ve seen ANIMAL KINGDOM), and considering the dog analysis that’s just been pointed out, could The Rover be one of those double – meaning titles, like, say, Debbie Does Dallas. Cause Debbie not only tours Dallas for tourist purposes but she also fucks the entire male population of Dallas while she’s at it?

    What I’m saying is, Rover is a common dog name. And Guy Pearce does a lot of roving around in the movie, from what I hear. And Michod used Animal Kingdom as a metaphor for his crime family in said film. I think Michod likes animals. If his next film is a kinky voyeuristic thriller called THE BIRD-WATCHERS, I’ll know I’ve fuckin nailed this guy.

  14. The movie was originally titled simply “Rover”…which would have been awesome.

    I felt for Eric quite a bit. I got behind a lot of his motivations. The dog was a true, pure, loyal friend in a world wherein your wife betrays you, people leave their brothers to die, they abandon their animal companions, they steal your shit, etc. The dog to him was the death of true good in the world. He tried to adopt Rey as his new companion and it turned out badly, tearing open a fresh emotional wound and reminding him how fucked the world is. He was NOT a psycho. He was a hard man living in hard times doing what he had to do to survive.

    Oh, and as far as Eric killing the midget, that guy was a dick. He was cruel to his own dogs (don’t know how many of you caught that) and he was a rude, greedy twat.

    :)

  15. I did absolutely love Eric’s little annoyed ‘look what you made me do’ look he gave after blowing the little guy’s head off. That moment made the character for me.

  16. SPOILERS SPOILERS

    Well Jesus guys, not to go against the popular opinion here, but I’m against random brutal murder of little people.

    Braypocalypse – “True he committed a heinous murder. And he does say he felt no remorse. But he does say what bothered him is that no one cared to find him. To punish him.” I’d argue that he was still remotely human at that point; he did commit a murder, but it was in the heat of the moment, and at least he had the decency to feel like he ought to be punished for it. But by the time we meet him, it seems like whatever amount of humanity he once had is gone, he’s an utterly narcissistic, murderous monster as far as I’m concerned.

    RBatty024 — “but Pierce’s devotion to his dog might merely be a way to justify himself as a decent human being, despite the fact that he’s done so many terrible things. ” This is the way I saw it too. He probably doesn’t even have enough humanity left in him to really care about the dog, or at least any more than he was able to muster care for Rey’s character. But he does somehow feel like he still needs to go through the ritual, maybe because that’s the only link he has left to the guy he used to be, who maybe did have some human feelings.

    Griff– “I wonder if this is what the future will really be like” There are some places on Earth not to dissimilar from this today.

  17. “Griff– “I wonder if this is what the future will really be like” There are some places on Earth not to dissimilar from this today.”

    exactly and wouldn’t it kind of be karmic justice if the entire world found itself that kind of situation

    by the way, does this movie explain what happened to the world?

  18. I enjoyed this film (probably more then I expected), had no problem with the reveal but felt the pun in the title weakened the whole effort – in that, it turned the reveal from a statement about humanity into a punchline.

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