Sunday, 8 May 2016

Film Review - 'The Rover'

The Rover is an unrelentingly bleak film. It's probably worthwhile to make that clear right from the start. It is a remorselessly grim, and often very violent, film - one that is fully immersed in darker shades of grey.

There aren't going to be any happy resolutions, here. There aren't going to be any moments of levity to lighten the mood. And, there certainly aren't going to be any clearly defined 'heroes' for the audience to identify with. Of course, all that being said, whether any of this would count as a strength, or a weakness, is purely a matter of personal preference.

Taking place 10 years after the largely undefined collapse of modern civilisation, The Rover introduces the audience to a dystopian take on the Australian Outback (a place which, to be fair, already has the look and feel of a desolate wasteland, even without this context). How, and why, modern civilisation managed to collapse in such a way clearly isn't something that the film intends to address. As far as The Rover is concerned, that just doesn't matter.

What does matter, though, is the simple fact that this is the world that the film's cast of characters is forced to inhabit. In this world, they are forced to live out bleak, and increasingly hopeless, lives - desperately clinging to whatever form of normalcy they can manage to find.

In this bleak world, we meet Archie, Caleb, and Henry (David Field, Tawanda Manyimo and Scoot NcNairy) - three men fleeing the scene of a crime. What was supposed to be a fairly routine robbery had managed to quickly get out of hand for the three men - resulting in a soldier, and Henry's brother Ray (Robert Pattinson), both being left for dead. When an escalating argument between the three men causes them to crash near what is certain to be Australia's most depressing pub, the three men promptly abandon their wrecked mode of transport and steal a car that happens to be parked nearby.

Eric (Guy Pearce), the owner of the car, clearly isn't too happy to have his property stolen - and, so, he quickly sets out after the three men. Their first confrontation doesn't go very well for Eric, though - with the mysterious stranger being left unconscious, as the three men flee. Despite this small set-back, it's not long until Eric is back on their trail - though, this time, it's very obvious that he's no longer interested in a peaceful resolution.

Later, Eric crosses paths with Rey, who had also set out in search of his brother - and, the two men enter into a very reluctant partnership as Eric forces Rey to lead him to his brother's safe-house.

But, who is Eric, though? Why was he so willing to stand up to three armed men, when it was obvious that he didn't have a weapon of his own? And, why is this car so important to him? As dangerous as these three men may think they are, it soon becomes painfully obvious that Eric is so much worse. He is a man who genuinely no longer seems to care whether he lives or dies - and, by the time he is done with them, these three men may have good reason to regret their own small act of mercy in leaving him alive.

Of course, with the three men responsible for angering Eric serving as a distant goal, much of the film rests solely on the shoulders of its two leads - with Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson each contributing an equal share of the film's success.

At first glance, Eric may comes across as a fairly one-dimensional character - but, Guy Pearce is able to take the role and make it into something both disturbing, and genuinely fascinating. Consumed by an anger, and a bitter resentment, that he is only barely able to keep contained, Eric is clearly not a pleasant man. He is a dangerous man - and, he pursues his intended victims with a single-minded devotion worthy of the great film villains.

As played by Robert Pattinson, Rey is simple-minded and naive - a young man who clearly suffers from some form of intellectual disability. Rey is a young man who feels a very desperate, and genuinely sad, need to attach himself to other people - latching on to the people around him for whatever protection and support they might be willing to provide. He is a sympathetic figure, certainly - even if, ultimately, he is no more innocent than any of the other flawed figures who populate this hopeless world (also, as a side-note, the idea that Robert Pattinson would be so committed to distancing himself from the Twilight franchise that he would be willing to appear in an independent Australian film, filmed in the Australian Outback, is something that I just can't help but be amused by).

The Rover is a film which goes to great lengths to establish, and maintain, a sense of constant tension. Even during its quieter moments, there is a constant feeling that another act of sudden, and shocking, violence is near - something which feels especially impressive when you realise that these moments of violence are, actually, rather rare.

Everything about this film seems deliberately designed to support this sought after tension. The performances given by the film's cast, the film's choice of music, the framing of certain shots, and even the way that the camera seems to linger at certain points, all seem to work together to create this feeling. It is clear that this film wants to keep its audience on edge - both anticipating, and dreading, the seemingly inevitable moment of violence. To the film-maker's credit, these efforts are actually successful, for the most part.

There are issues, of course.

There will be points within the film where this obsession with maintaining this constant tension may test the patience of the audience. Some scenes, and sequences, simply seem to linger on much longer than strictly necessary. The film's dialogue, too, is an issue - with characters occasionally prone to delivering awkward, and occasionally rambling, lines which left me wondering if the cast had been required to improvise.

There are also moments, particularly early on, where the film's staging of certain shots might strained the audience's ability to suspend their disbelief. The car-crash which sets the film in motion, for example, is an especially problematic moment. We see the flip and roll - yet, the three men inside are entirely unharmed. We see the three men struggle to get the car started again, before abandoning it - yet, Eric has no difficulty when he takes it in pursuit of his own car. It's a small moment, admittedly, but it is still a pivotal one - and, the borderline implausibility of it all was distracting.

These issues may detract from the film, somewhat - but, fortunately, it never quite reaches the point of spoiling it, entirely. While there are obvious parallels that can be drawn between this film and the Mad Max franchise (with both, of course, being dystopian tales set in Australia), in practise, the two actually feel very different. While Mad Max may revel in the increasingly outlandish spectacle of its action, The Rover is a film that is determined to fully embrace the grim and violent reality of its fictional setting. It can be an oddly exhausting experience - but, it is still a worthwhile one.

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