Tuesday 28 January 2020

The Rover (16): 'An impressively staged and remarkably acted drama'

Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson in 'The Rover'
Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson in 'The Rover'

Doug Whelan

Starring Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, director David Michôd


Since finally finding himself free of the Twilight saga, Robert Pattinson has been working strenuously to prove that he is in fact a Serious Actor, and not the doe-eyed-but-not-much-else it has been all too easy to dismiss him as following that train wreck of a quintology. And a serious actor he is, as proved by his nuanced performance in this Australian dystopian drama. Essentially a two-hander between Pattinson and Guy Pearce in the lead, The Rover is a tense and violent road movie that evokes No Country for Old Men by way of Mad Max.

In the near future, following a global economic collapse, the Australian outback is a lawless wasteland where life is cheap, but little else is. Loner Eric (Pearce) has one prized possession: his car. When small time criminals make off with it following a botched robbery, Eric thinks nothing of setting off after them to take back what's his by any means necessary. With him is halfwit Rey (Pattinson), brother of one of the criminals. He maintains he knows where the gang can be found, but as their journey goes on, Eric begins to question Rey's motives and exactly where they might be headed.

Eric and Rey's journey across the outback becomes an Odyssey. Each character they meet, be it a gun-running dwarf, a kindly nurse or an officious and profiteering police force offers a further understanding of the dark new world they live in; Mad Max is an easy comparison given the setting and theme, but the future of The Rover is far more terrifying because of just how plausible it is. As well as the minimalist approach (little explanation of 'the collapse' is offered), the attention to detail from director David Michôd gives the world a rusty, dusty realism.

Meanwhile, Eric is a dangerous, fearless individual but it's not a life of adventure he leads. When we first meet him, the only emotion we feel is despair, and one gets the sense that Rey coming into his life and his car being stolen may actually have saved his life, not ruined it. In an intense performance of few words, former soap star Guy Pearse once again proves himself to be one of the most talented actors of his generation and one whose best work is still ahead of him.

Someone else whose best work is certainly also ahead of him is Robert Pattinson, who turns in a startling and brave performance as mumbling man-child Rey. A bundle of nervous ticks and boasting an impressive southern US accent, Rey is as indecipherable as he is pitiful. Choosing intense roles like this to shake off his pin-up past might have been a risky move but he is more than up to the challenge.

The Rover is an impressively staged and remarkably acted drama; while it might not hit the same heights as Michôd's debut Animal Kingdom, it's another fine film out of Australia and one all involved can be proud of.

Click here for The Film Show, reviewing The Rover and What If

First published in INSIDER Magazine, exclusive to Thursday's Irish Independent

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