Del and Mladen review ‘The Rover’

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films.

“The Rover” Starring Guy Pearce as Eric, Robert Pattinson as Rey, Scoot McNairy as Henry, and others. Directed by David Michod. 1 hour, 43 minutes. Rated R. Streaming on most major platforms except Netflix.

Plot summary: It’s the end of the world and Eric’s (Guy Pearce) car has been stolen. He wants it back and sets off to find the thieves. Along the way he encounters the brother of one of the thieves, Rey (Robert Pattinson), who says he knows where his brother Henry (Scott McNairy) is holed up. The two embark on an unlikely adventure across the post-apocalyptic Australian Outback, one in search of justice, the other in search of company.

Spoilers quotient: Low

Del’s grade: B

Mladen’s grade: A-

Del’s take

“The Rover” takes place in Australia, “10 years after the collapse.” I read that and thought, “Hot diggity, a new Mad Max movie.”

Alas, “The Rover” is no Mad Max. It’s one of those “long-stare” movies – you know, the kind where the characters perpetually stare into the distance, at times squinting, like me trying to read the fine print in my homeowner’s insurance policy. Those long stares should be accompanied by something Nietzschean – an abyss, a monster, just some expression of Teutonic fatalism. Alas, there is nothing, which means things have really gone downhill.

What we do get is blood, violence, and cynicism, which is not to say “The Rover” is a bad movie. For what it is, it’s pretty good. But if I want to give up on humanity I’ll watch the 6 o’clock news.

And that’s the thematic imperative of “The Rover” – people are scumbags and the world is for shit. The viewpoint character, Eric, sees people in one of two ways – expendable impediments, or means to an end.

That is until he meets Rey, brother of one of the trio who stole his car. Rey is simple-minded and as such, he functions as an archetype for mankind in its undiluted state, innocent and corruptible, the perfect Petri dish for Eric’s contagious cynicism. And that’s what Eric sets out to do – make Rey as hardhearted as he is. He calls it “learning to fight,” but it’s nothing more than learning not to give a shit about anyone but yourself.

It’s at this point we see a chink in Eric’s armor. As he watches Rey descend into scumbaggery he seems to regret what he’s done, a theme later reinforced by Henry, Rey’s brother, who screams at Eric, “What did you do to him?”

In the final scene we learn why Eric was hellbent on finding his car, offering yet another peek at his shredded humanity while simultaneously illustrating his decline into spiritual suicide. I was hoping for a gesture of redemption and I guess it could be seen that way. More likely it was a final middle finger to the human race.

Framed against the dusty wastes of the Australian Outback, “The Rover” delivers a more depressing statement about the nature of man than many other post-apocalyptic tomes. Everything in its universe is violent, bloody and cynical – in other words, what America will be when the Republicans get through with it.

“The Rover” was well made but it’s depressing as hell. Like I said, if I want a dose of bleakness I’ll watch the 6 o’clock news.

Mladen’s take

This is a chicken-or-egg question. Did the first John Wick movie release before “The Rover” or after? I ask because both films are 2014 cinema and both revolve around the plot point of a man, his car, and a dog, albeit under different conditions. For a moment, I wondered if “The Rover” was a riff on “John Wick” but I dismissed the idea for a couple of reasons. This allowed me to dwell on the austere beauty and simplicity of “The Rover.”

I empathize with the notion that a man’s car is his castle. Where Wick wanted his ’69 Ford Mustang returned, our “The Rover” anti-hero Eric wanted his stolen Holden Commodore back. The Commodore is a sleeper, clean ovoid lines with only its quad exhaust suggesting there are serious newtons – using horsepower to measure engine output is primitive – under the hood.

As Eric roves the Australian outback searching for his Commodore and the contents of its trunk, he finds Rey, the brother of one of the thugs who stole the Holden. Their unlikely partnership serves as the backbone of the movie, which unfolds per my motto in life, “Steady as she goes until you have to pull the trigger.”

Del complains that “The Rover” is a long-stare movie. Sure, in some instances. But you must always keep in mind that it’s staring straight at mankind’s future. And, it’s clear Del wasn’t paying attention when he wiggled his arthritic index finger back and forth at those moments in the movie when very little, if anything, was happening. The disquieting quiet in “The Rover” is backed by a terrific score. When Eric’s broken and nearly remorseless heart allows stoic calm, the score provides the heat.

The acting in “The Rover” is very good even when the script falters here and there. Pattinson as Rey is perfect. Del described Rey as simple-minded and the film’s Eric as a half-wit. Not the case. As it turned out, Rey had a hard time making decisions but, when he finally decided on a course of action, it was executed very effectively. Rey sure as hell had a keen instinct for survival.

“The Rover” is bleak. It is punctuated by violence. The way Eric concluded his first business-like transaction surprised the hell out of me. But, the movie’s atmosphere is plausible. Though the Collapse had occurred, some level of social organization was still present. The norm that killing people was bad still had some sway. The Australian government was trying to enforce laws. Cargo trains still ran. Food, water, and gas were available for the properly denominated payment.

I give “The Rover” an A-. There are a couple of notable bits of dialogue. The movie isn’t too long and, as I already mentioned, the acting is very good and the score top notch. The high rating, a portion of it anyway, might be an artifact of the trauma Del dropped on my head with the last two movies he had me watch. Compared to “Leave the World Behind” and “Saltburn,” the version of dystopia portrayed in “The Rover” seemed uplifting.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and writer.


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