Ah, September! It’s the time of year when the major blockbuster season is over. Hollywood has emptied the chamber with four months full of releases. After a hot and sweaty summer, the major studios seem a little lethargic. They’re conserving their strength for the holidays when they’ll thrust more movies with oversized budgets into theaters. While the cineplexes are a virtual wasteland of hard-to-market films, it’s a good time to examine the independent films available online and On Demand—like the interesting and rather dour film “The Rover.”
The future is going to suck. It’s a frightening no-man’s land where resources are scarce, angry gangs of drifters lurk in the background, and death is only one bad choice away. Hell, death would be a gift in Hollywood’s never-ending paean to the lawless future that apparently awaits. It’s a place where the living envy the dead and everyone is in desperate need of a shower.
“The Rover” portrays a frightening near future wherein the world has suffered an economic collapse. Apparently, 10 years down the road, Australia will be the place to be. If a studio wants to do dusty and bleak, there’s no place better than the Land Down Under. If it was good enough for four “Mad Max” movies, it’s certainly good enough for “The Rover”—which feels thematically linked to Peter Weir’s ode to the age of rust, dust and action.
“The Rover” owes as much to Westerns as it does to dysptopian, apocalyptic dramas. Eric (Guy Pearce) personifies the textbook maverick hero: He’s steely, quiet, grizzled, and fully capable of indiscriminate killing. A group of thieves botch a heist, and the subsequent getaway results in a car crash. The thieves take Eric’s car, and he is none too pleased. He begins a tense, downright psychotic chase to see it returned. It embodies an equal blend of Clint Eastwood’s “Man With No Name” and Marlon Brando’s “Rebel Without A Cause.”
Most carjackings don’t result in this level of obsession. Eric moves through the remnants of humanity with the subtlety of Mel Gibson at a porn-star convention with an open bar. Nothing will stand between Eric and retrieving his rather-average automobile. He is joined in his pursuit by Rey (Robert Pattinson), the brother of one of the thieves who barely survived the encounter. The two make an unlikely pair on an age-old quest of revenge.
“The Rover” results in an atmospheric thriller that relies heavily on tensions built by a slow chase through an arid landscape. It creates the cinematic equivalent of the slasher-type serial killer, who methodically stalks a house in pursuit of frightened, scantily clad, running teenagers. It’s a very ugly movie in terms of character, theme and execution. It fashions a bleak world for its immoral subjects to inhabit and generates a nihilist’s paradise wherein the scum of the earth contend with the withering fragments of civilization. Still, the world has enough order to prevent everything from slipping down the drain.
The actors carry the movie and manage to deliver something substantial out of a very thin plot. As always, Pearce is a fantastic force on the big screen. When he’s not slumming it in worthless supporting roles in big-budget tripe—(cough) “Iron Man 3” (cough)—he’s riveting to watch. Pearce is a classic leading man, who exudes a great, teeth-gnashing performance. Pattinson (from those wretched “Twilight” movies) surprises in a role that allows him to show actual range. I am shocked to learn he can actually produce emotion onscreen.
The biggest success of “The Rover” is its pulpy feel. It’s one act of violence after another. With a modest budget, it paints a pretty terrifying look at the near future.
In the end, Eric’s motivation for chasing down his car is explained. Much like the film, it’s heartbreaking and dark. This is the kind of movie for which the On Demand experience was made. It doesn’t feel like anything is lost from the big screen to the small screen. The dirty, digital and often handheld shooting style flows nicely on the HD flat screen. “The Rover” isn’t a game changer or a redefining piece of cinema; it’s an engrossing indie film that produces thrills from start to finish.
★ ★ ★
Starring Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson and Scoot McNairy
Directed by David Michôd