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Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Rover Review: Why Can't Dystopian People Be a Little Nicer?

The gritty post-apocalyptic The Rover frustrates us at almost every turn.

What would the world look like if all the dystopian talk in Hollywood films actually happened? The Rover tries to give us a glimpse of one man's journey, but its minimalist style drains a lot of needed color from what could have been Oscar glory.

The Rover tells the story of a world gone mad, 10 years after an economic collapse in Australia. There, American dollars are preferred, gas and food are scarce, and killing appears to be the preferred way of doing things. Enter the scraggly-bearded Eric (Guy Pearce), whose car is stolen by three thugs after a shooting leaves the fourth thug Rey (Robert Pattinson) critically injured. As Eric pursues the trio to get his car back, he comes into contact with half-wit Rey, who knows where his compatriots have stolen off. Rather than take the truck which Rey's friends have left behind, Eric strangely resolves to get his car back, creating a trail of blood and bodies that sets the stage for a violent showdown with Rey caught in the crossfire.

Gritty and dystopian as they come, The Rover makes no excuses for its content, correctly surmising that people will abandon duty, honor, and basic humanity when sustained hardship arises. From the moment our story begins - and the flies climb up Eric's nose with no effort to shoo them away - we know this story isn't going to coddle us. And while it makes good on its violent promise, there is an inherently defective nature to this film that eats away at any progress or good will it attempts to build.

Our main issue with the film is its utter lack of backstory: what caused the economic collapse, what has Eric been doing for the past 10 years, and why does he choose to empty the very personal contents of his trunk into such a random spot? Without these and many other questions answered, a growing lack of narrative clarity results in a torrential amount of questions as one emerges from the theater. Director/Co-Writer David Michôd incorporates many elements of Mad Max to high precision, displaying depravity and desolation as few can. Eric's world is pushed to the edge, and his single-minded desire to get his car back just goes to show how desperate people can become when their entire existence is taken from them. In many ways, Michôd and Co-Writer Joel Edgerton redefine the genre, unafraid to introduce even a moment of hope or levity into the film. But it still comes down to story, and The Rover is missing a lot of it. Rather than celebrating some of the best performances of the year, we're left with a Film 101 candidate on poor editing.

Pearce is an engaging actor who can sell a scene merely by looking at the camera - his laser-sharp glances tell you of a man driven over the edge with nothing to lose, a symbol of a world that's gone off the deep end. Pattinson demonstrates that he can have a successful dramatic career post-Twilight, provided he can secure similarly juicy roles. Everyone else is window dressing, offering no deeper character elements than their oddly endowed physical features. Sadly, we soon become desensitized to such randomness, as Michôd parades them past us rather than taking a moment for us to become associated. This lack of sincerity makes their deaths feel empty and meaningless, which might be the point of the film after all. What does work for us is the most bizarre score we've heard in 2014 - Composer Antony Partos's stinging elements resonate throughout the picture, setting an immediate and unapologetic tone.

The Rover gets so many things right except the important ones, its lack of a cohesive story raising more questions than it answers. Never have we seen such powerful performances sprinkled with such a bare minimum of detail or backstory. It could have been an unqualified Oscar candidate, redefining the gritty drama genre; instead, its frustratingly minimalist narrative only serves to lessen the environment and its hauntingly bizarre soundtrack. The Rover is rated R for language and some bloody violence and has a runtime of 102 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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