How I learned to stop worrying and love the Apocalypse, part 2: The Rover (2014)
It’s been pointed out to me at length on the last review in this series that I didn’t define the rules properly. This is true, I left them intentionally vague. Much like Batman, I have one rule with this series: all reviews will feature an apocalyptic event, either before or afterwards, but each type of event will only be used once for this cycle. That way, if I feel like it, I can use things like Seeking a Friend for the End of the World at one end of the scale and, say, Mad Max 2 at the other. Other than that, it’s open season and I’m hoping for a nice mix of the epic and the small-scale without too many duds. Anyhoo, this entry is David Michôd’s follow up to the excellent Animal Kingdom, 2014’s The Rover.
Contains an angry midget and spoilers below.
Meet Eric. Eric (Guy Pearce) is a very angry man. He’s cross about a lot of things, but as the film opens, what he’s mostly cross with is that a group of scumbags (Archie (David Field), Caleb (Tawanda Manyimo) and Henry (Scoot McNairy) have stolen his car. One angry confrontation later, and he’s left unconscious at the side of the road, while the three thieves have gone on their merry way. However, all is not lost, as Rey (Robert Pattinson, surprisingly not sucking), has been abandoned by his brother back at the scene of the robbery.
Anyway, Eric kidnaps Rey, and takes him off for some jolly adventures around the outback, but only after they stop for ice cream. Only joking, he takes him on a series of depressing encounters where people tend to end up on the pointy end of a bullet. These include: A circus troupe, with an angry midget (shot by Eric, to rob his gun), a nice doctor and her companion (companion shot by vengeance seeking circus troupe, who are in turn shot by Eric), a hotel owner (daughter shot by Rey, owner shot by Eric), some soldiers (most important one shot by Rey), eventually culminating in a showdown with the thieves (everyone but Eric, and I know this may come as a shock given what’s happened previously, shot). Sorry about the spoilers, but it doesn’t actually matter to enjoying the film. None of the above is in any way surprising.
Well, this is (another), intensely nihilistic film. The implication, from Michôd, is that as nothing has any value in the wake of the collapse, mankind will default to some kind of dog eat dog mentality with the only limits of morality set by individuals. In the case of Eric, he has lost absolutely everything, and thus has no limits whatsoever. The quest to regain his car from the thieves actually starts to become almost of Grail quest mythic levels, but the reveal at the end as to why he’s so keen to get the car back seems to me to contradict the theme the film is setting out. Sure, Eric may be a total sociopath and a complete bastard, but he’s not above a bit of sentimentality.
The world is well established through dialogue, rather than explicit narration, with the film happy to allow us a slow understanding of what happened in moments like Eric screaming “it’s worthless paper” at a guy refusing to take Aussie Dollars. Pearce is outstanding here, grimly showing a world-weariness that slowly infects Pattinson over the course of the film. Pattinson, incidentally, is actually quite good, as I think he’s meant to be retarded. Although his stutter was starting to grate on me by the end, it’s nice work and he does a decent job of playing a foil to Pearce’s relentless grimness.
Eric is very much a man of his world, and Michôd’s painted a disturbingly feasible dystopian nightmare. Australia’s outback is a hard, bleak place and the setting lends itself well to the story. If there’s one big plus of The Rover, aside from Pearce, it’s that this post-apocalyptic wasteland looks great- a vista of sun-blasted landscape punctuated by functional dwellings (without luxury) with interiors depicted in washed out colours. You can practically smell the decay, and massive credit to the cinematographer for this.
So, if the economy has collapsed causing the total breakdown of society, where are the government. Or at least warlords or something. In this case, they’re represented by the soldiers that pull Eric in. However, the man in charge points out that while there is a government, don’t expect them to care about what’s happening in the outback. Eric already knows this, and uses it as a chance to explain exactly why he’s so nihilistic. This, actually, is a cracking scene, and I really resented Rey when he turned up and ruined it.
The Rover is a good film, but it feels a touch hollow, simply because of the nihilism on display. The first third is genuinely gripping, the acting is solid and it looks great for the most part, but at the end of the day, there’s a dire need for some levity to break the misery chain. At the climax of the film I was left asking myself why should we care about these characters given that they blatantly don’t give a shit about anything.
- Date: 2024 (I think. It’s 10 years “later” anyway. 2024 is clearly a bad year for humanity)
- Extinction Event: Global Economic Collapse. Helpfully referred to as The Collapse.
- Main Hazards: Complete breakdown of civilisation, rogue circus troops. And Guy Pearce.
- Chances of Survival of the Species: Not too fucking shabby, actually. There are moves to restore law and order, even in Australia, and the US Dollar is a viable currency, which implies that this is more of a local problem than anything else. This suggests that things may be a bit shitty for a while, but it’ll sort itself out in the end.
- Rating: Pretty decent. Slow, but quite gripping albeit too miserable. I’m going with 2.5 smiley mushroom clouds out of 4.
Well, so far so good in this series, but I do feel a need for a bit of a break from non-stop misanthropy, so I’m going to dig out something a bit more cheery for the next installment.