Movies You Might Have Missed: The Rover

TitleThe Rover
Release Date: 2014
Rating: R
Length: 104 minutes
Director: David Michôd
Starring: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy
Language: English
Country: Australia

The Rover could almost be a war film. There are long stretches where “nothing” happens, punctuated by brief flashes of intense violence. The events of the movie tell a story, but the real reward is the illumination of the eponymous character.

The world is not explained other than an initial title card telling us it’s been 10 years since “the collapse”. Other clues indicate that it was a catastrophe on a world-wide scale, but nothing about why. It lends a quasi-post-apocalyptic vibe to the world and the Australian wilderness is peculiarly well-suited to portray this. (As in the Mad Max series.)

Guy Pearce plays the Rover (named Eric in the credits, but never called this by anyone on screen). He is a man who cares about nothing except getting his car back. He is strangely attached to it in a way that baffles the other characters enough to excite comment more than once. It’s stolen in the opening minutes of the film by a trio of apparent thieves fleeing from their most recent crime. They have left Rey (Pattinson), their fourth and brother of one of the trio, behind. He was shot and left for dead. They crash their truck, can’t get it out of the ditch, and thus take the Rover’s car.

Rey catches up to Pearce who aids him solely so he can then use him in the pursuit of his car, which he wants despite getting the truck loose. Over the course of a search for a doctor and the chase after the thieves, there are several places where one would expect even an anti-hero to show some humanity and get the audience on his side. But the Rover never does this. He is feral, brutal, and uncaring. He sneers at Rey’s faith in his brother, taunts him with his abandonment and fills his head with doubts.

Despite (because of?) this, Rey eventually transfers his admiration, faith, and even affection to his new companion as they chase Rey’s older brother and his accomplices. Rey is hardly more than a boy, and none too bright, and when the Rover finally cracks his faith and pushes him into cynicism there is the barest hint of him wavering, but only then and only a hint.

Two-thirds of the way through the Rover talks to another character about the nature of the world they inhabit and we learn why the Rover is the way he is and what made him the man he is at the start of the film. He doesn’t justify himself, he doesn’t excuse his actions, he merely offers it as explanation and challenge to the other man. The pieces click together, and the full horror of who he is and why he is are clearly seen for the first time. Not traditional horror; he’s no alien, no supernatural monster. He is a monster, but a fully human monster and, I would argue, all the more terrible for it.

The movie is violent and has a full measure of four-letter words and could well leave you feeling rather down at the end, but in the manner of the best noir. I hope, if you watch it, that you end by reflecting on yourself, your humanity, your sinfulness, and the deep need for redemption. Take it as a warning. About what? I’ll let Pearce tell you. Don’t miss it.

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