According to the opening title card, The Rover takes place in Australia “Ten years after the collapse.” The exact nature and magnitude of this collapse is never made clear, but it is on some level economic (there are numerous references to characters only wanting American money because Australian money is now worthless). However, the film primarily takes place in the semi-arid wilds of southern Australia, so it isn’t clear how much of an impact the collapse had on everyday life.
While stopping to get a drink, a man named Eric (Guy Pearce) witnesses his car being stolen by a group of robbers that includes Henry (Scoot McNairy). Eric immediately pursues the carjackers, risking his life to get his car back. He is forced to navigate the seedy underbelly of the desolate countryside and soon crosses paths with Rey (Robert Pattinson), Henry’s brother who was left for dead by the group of robbers during a botched crime. Rey is dirty, half-stupid, and barely able to string a sentence together, but Eric forces Rey to travel with him because he is Eric’s only lead to finding his car. Along the way Rey and Eric learn to trust each other because it is the only way both of them will survive.
For almost the entirety of the film it isn’t clear why Eric is so determined to retrieve his car. At first it seems like he is so adamant on retrieving it simply because it is his and there is nothing else for him to fight for. But The Rover ends in a “Rosebud” moment that somewhat explains Eric’s actions throughout the film, but leaves much up to the interpretation of the audience (and actually, now that I think about it, the movie’s title actually is a hint toward the conclusion). I didn’t think it was a satisfying conclusion, but perhaps other viewers will feel otherwise.
Pearce is his usual excellent self as a steely-eyed, no-nonsense man on a mission. His performance is the best part of the entire film. The same could not be said about Pattinson. While I give him a lot of credit for shedding his pretty-boy image in order to play such a grimy role, his character is annoying. Much of that is probably because of Pattinson’s horrific accent, which sounds like a combination of Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel from The Simpsons with the diction of Billy Bob Thornton in Sling Blade.
The Rover is a post-apocalyptic film with Western sensibilities — sort of a combination between fellow Aussie film The Road Warrior and The Road and The Proposition (which both starred Pearce). However, all three of those films are better than The Rover, which is fascinating as a human drama but exists in a future world that isn’t particularly creative or colorful enough to absorb the audience. It doesn’t have visual flair (like The Road or The Road Warrior), nor does it have a compelling backstory (there’s no explanation for the military’s role in this world except to be bad guys for the sake of being bad guys). The cacophonous music by Antony Partos adds a further level of uncomfortability to the movie and instead of moving the narrative forward slows it to a screeching halt. While it isn’t exactly torture because it’s not a bad movie, it’s rather like sitting in the waiting room of a doctor’s office because it’s not entertaining, exciting, or thought-provoking either. That’s not why I go to the movies, and I suspect it isn’t why you would either.
David Michôd, who wrote the story and directed The Rover, made a very good crime drama in 2010, Animal Kingdom. In between he co-wrote the odd drama Hesher. The screenplay for The Rover was actually written by actor Joel Edgerton, who appeared in Animal Kingdom. It doesn’t seem like the pair brought the best out of each other this time around, but the two will likely bounce back in other projects.
RATING: While ultimately disappointing, there are a few fine elements to The Rover that might make you more interested in it than I was (5/10).