You 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.
Guy 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.