Go See The Rover: Guy Pearce Shines in Another Gem From Australian Director David Michôd

Reviews of the latest films.
June 12 2014 6:17 PM

The Rover

Guy Pearce really wants his car back.

Guy Pearce in The Rover (2014).
Guy Pearce stars in The Rover.

Photo courtesy A24

“You should never stop thinking about a life you’ve taken,” the grizzled hero of The Rover tells his young hostage-turned-partner. “That’s the price you pay for taking it.” Plenty of lives are taken in The Rover, the second feature by the talented and daring Australian director David Michôd. And as that weighty advice suggests, none of them is taken lightly. Blood is spilled, as is to be expected in a film that explores a world on the brink of ruin, but each death echoes through the story the way the hero’s gunshots echo across the Outback.

Dan Kois Dan Kois

Dan Kois is Slate's culture editor and a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine.

It’s 10 years after some kind of global economic collapse, and while Southern Australia isn’t entirely lawless in the Mad Max mode, it’s definitely seen better days. Dollars can still buy you food or gas, though good luck getting someone to take your Australian bills—USD only in your finer squalid huts. The telephone poles are decorated with crucified men, and trains crossing the territory are guarded by mercenaries in wraparound shades.

In making a movie that skirts the edges of post-apocalyptic cliché, Michôd is aided immeasurably by his actor, the indispensable Guy Pearce. Though he’s a handsome and intuitive actor, Pearce rarely plays lead roles—you know him best as the amnesiac at the center of Memento, but may have seen him most recently as the guy who gets blown up at the beginning of The Hurt Locker. It’s a welcome sight, seeing him carry a movie again. He’s austere and fascinating in The Rover, and his seriousness of purpose undercuts any possible campiness in the film’s world-gone-wrong setting: Each scene may be more dire than the last, but we care about Pearce, so we care about the movie.

Advertisement

Windblown and bearded, Pearce’s character goes unnamed, and I cannot bring myself to call him Eric, the name the credits give him. Instead, let’s call him Guy—because that’s Pearce’s name, and because the name fits the archetypal nature of this haunted, anonymous figure. At the beginning of The Rover, Guy is nursing a drink when three men on the run after some kind of violent crime steal his car. The rest of the movie chronicles Guy’s single-minded efforts to get that car back.

Who is Guy? “I was a farmer,” he says. “Now I’m here.” He’s an excellent shot with a rifle. He’s still, taciturn, and at times ruthless, but not cold-blooded. Pearce plays Guy so modestly that at times the man seems empty inside, but we learn over the course of the movie that Guy is quietly haunted by his past: When an antagonist tells a captured Guy it’s all over, he replies sadly, “Whatever you think is over for me was over a long time ago.”

The Rover hinges on Guy’s connection to Rey, the wounded, simple-minded brother of one of the thieves, whom Guy forces to lead him to his car. Rey is played by Robert Pattinson, and I’m happy to say I can’t imagine a more audience-unfriendly left turn Twilight’s icy dreamboat could have taken. His performance—teeth yellowed, eyes darting, speech filled with tics—is mannered but thoughtful. The two make an odd pair—they have some real #truedetectiveseason2 moments driving across the outback, Rey chattering away, Guy silently glaring—but the movie movingly explores the kind of stunted connection that can grow in arid soil.

Michôd’s debut, Animal Kingdom (in which Pearce was excellent in, you got it, a supporting role), was an awesomely self-assured gangster epic; it garnered Jacki Weaver an Oscar nomination and served as American audiences’ first taste of a certain school of contemporary Australian filmmaking—entertaining, gritty, and mordantly funny. (Michôd is part of the filmmaking collective Blue-Tongue Films, and co-wrote the must-watch Blue-Tongue short Spider.) The Rover shares with Animal Kingdom a fascination with primal human behavior, but Michôd’s pacing is much slower and his scale more modest this time around (despite the epochal world catastrophe the film hints at). Nonetheless, Michôd demonstrates once again that he can stage a standoff with wit and flair, whether it’s between armed men or between Guy and a vulture eyeing him appreciatively from the bed of a truck.

“Not everything has to be about something,” Rey protests when Guy dismisses one of his stories as meaningless. It’s an argument on behalf of the movie itself, in a way; frustrated viewers might declare the movie isn’t about anything, but in fact it’s about nothing—or nothingness, really, and what seeps in along its edges. In the sere Australian desert, life sustains itself on very little. In the absence of civilized authority, commerce and community survive, though they’re constantly at risk. And even in a life as emptied out and violent as Guy’s, some spark remains. Michôd’s film is barren and brutish, but Pearce’s haunted performance also makes it human.

Dan Kois is Slate's culture editor and a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 17 2014 8:15 AM Ted Cruz Will Not Join a Protest of "The Death of Klinghoffer" After All
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 9:03 AM My Father Was James Brown. I Watched Him Beat My Mother. And Then I Found Myself With Someone Like Dad.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 8:27 AM Only Science Fiction Can Save Us! What sci-fi gets wrong about income inequality.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 17 2014 7:30 AM Ring Around the Rainbow
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.