After his hugely successful and terrifying Animal Kingdom, David Michod’s film has been eagerly anticipated by both critics and fans. This time Michod moves out of the city and recent past, to the harsh Australian Flinders Ranges and the not-too-distant future.
Eric (Guy Pearce) is a farmer who certainly doesn’t seem to be caring for his farmstead any longer. A grizzled and lean figure, when Eric stops in a bar, a trio of bandits steal his car. Eric is quick on their tail, determined to get his ride back. His plans are scuppered by a knock on the head and the three head off. But these three gangsters have left a bloody trail behind them, including their own gang member Rey (Robert Pattinson).
Severely wounded, nevertheless he drags himself away from the bloody scene and soon meets up with Eric. As both men are keen to meet up with the gang, so begins their joint adventure throughout this harsh and brutal landscape. This is “ten years since the collapse” and we are guessing that there has been a major economic meltdown: Australian dollars are worthless, Americans come to Australia to work the mines, and Chinese radio stations are playing on the radio. Globalisation has gone mad, and the indigent population has gone feral. Everybody carries a weapon, nobody trusts anyone, and the outback is a lawless wasteland full of crucified victims, murderers and soldiers, who are not exactly members of a peacekeeping force.
Michod has captured this landscape well. The worrying aspect is that although this is ten years down the line, everything looks horribly contemporary. There is little doubt that Michod is referring to our own meltdown and proximity to this impending disaster. Only a handful of characters have retained a sense of humanity and generosity, and it is the dearth of this that Eric laments. When we discover that he has committed a heinous crime, it is the fact that he got away with it that he finds unendurable.
So what is it with the car? Is Eric searching for his dignity? His pride? Is it full of treasure? And whatever is or isn’t in the car, is it worth the bloodshed and mounting body count? Is Eric good or bad? The same questions can be asked about Rey: is he just a hillbilly? Or an idiot savant? Is it possible to be so unworldly in a world such as this? He speaks Mandarin, another indication of Chinese domination, at least in this part of the world, so maybe he’s not so dumb after all.
Like most films set in the future, Michod’s The Rover is a damning indictment of our society and a warning of the price we might pay for our behaviour. Yet there is nothing here we haven’t seen before. It has much in common with films such as The Road, but adds little to it. Guy Pearce excels in a difficult role and Robert Pattinson is believable and entertaining as his partner on this oft-beaten track through a dystopia of our making.