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by Eric Kohn
June 11, 2014 11:02 AM
13 Comments
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Review: Robert Pattinson and Guy Pearce Can't Quite Salvage David Michod's 'The Rover'

Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson in "The Rover."

The dirty, broken world at the center of David Michod's "The Rover," the Australian director's post-apocalyptic follow-up to his grisly 2010 crime drama "Animal Kingdom," is a familiar one. The dusty landscape and cruel, humorless personalities populating its small ensemble immediately call to mind "Mad Max," while the prevalent despair suggests pages borrowed from Cormac McCarthy's "The Road." Unfortunately, despite Michod's capability  to emulate these dreary worlds -- and formidable performances from "Animal Kingdom" star Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson in his first substantial effort post-"Twilight" -- the movie barely amounts to more than a homage.

An opening title card sets the action "10 years after the collapse," but nothing in "The Rover" is explicitly science fiction. Instead, Michod constructs a violent road trip thriller in which bearded loner Eric (Pearce) launches a mission to track down the bandits who stole his car. In the process, he joins forces with one of the culprits' wounded brother Rey (Pattinson), whom they left for dead before the story's opening. An introductory segment in which the trio of villains, led by Rey's brother Henry (Scoot McNairy, in a handful of scenes) holds promise: it finds the feuding men engaged in a car accident alternately shot from inside the vehicle and flying by the window of the ramshackle building where Eric sits with his drink and the sound of the crash is drowned out by blaring music. That oddly funny moment is followed by a suspenseful chase sequence as Eric jumps into the titular vehicle and briefly manages to chase them down. 

But few of the enusing scenes capture the same elements of surprise or excitement. Instead, as tight-lipped Eric continues on his quest with the bumbling Rey forced to accompany him, "The Rover" offers plenty of compelling ingredients dryly assembled along an unimaginative trajectory.

Nevertheless, Pearce's scowling expression and relentless ability to force others to meet his demands—particularly in a sudden burst of violence when he seeks out a firearm—marks his strongest effort since "Animal Kingdom," while Pattinson finally moves beyond wooden mannerisms to give his awkward character a pathetic, creepy demeanor. Leaving both the origin stories for both men largely up for interpretation, however, Michod (who co-wrote the story with regular collaborator Joel Edgerton) fails to make their plight engaging. Like its tattered setting, "The Rover" is scattered with intriguing ideas never successfully fleshed out: From a woman at one outpost who keeps her dogs in cages to save them from scavengers to a motel shootout that manifests out of nowhere, Michod effectively creates the anticipation of peril lurking in every corner. It's easy enough to get swept in the intensity of these moments.However, the movie's harsh posturing never leads anywhere. 

Unlike John Hilcoat's 2005 Australian western "The Proposition," the outback doesn't hold enough appeal on its own terms to justify the absence of story. Cinematographer Natasha Braier's yellow-brown imagery engenders a gravitas far deeper than any of the movie's slim developments. Instead, Michod relies on a series of basic vignettes. On more than one occasion, Eric and Rey engage in rambling fireside chats in between their adventures on the road. At one point, Michod's camera slowly pushes in Pattinson as he sits in their parked vehicle, singing falsetto to Keri Hilson's "Pretty Girl Rock" on the radio. It's a random tangent that doesn't deepen the proceedings or complicate the narrative in any particular way; like much of the "The Rover," it's a fragment incapable of latching onto a bigger picture.

Michod's commitment to unsympathetic storytelling and hardened characters allowed "Animal Kingdom" to maintain palpable dread at every moment. In "The Rover," the empty tension dissipates with time. Like the earlier movie, it culminates in an abrupt exchange of gunfire, but the meager payoff after such a bland, prolonged buildup feels like a cheat. One of the characters sighs that "not everything has to be about something," but "The Rover" never manages to manages to fully justify that excuse. 

Grade: C+

"The Rover" premiered last month at the Cannes Film Festival. It opens in New York and Los Angeles this Friday ahead of a national expansion on June 20.


13 Comments

  • confused | June 17, 2014 10:45 AMReply

    is it just you or RT who has bias against Robert Pattinson?
    everyones opinion of a film is personal, but your coming accross far too harsh and personal when it should be a balanced proffessional review if you liked the film or not
    reviewers on one site won't always agree on a film but I'm curious why indiewire's Jessica Kiang's review of the rover with a score of B+ has not been posted on RT which would be fresh
    could someone explain who deceides what is included please
    reviews are personal but I dont understand two different reviewers , two articles on indiewire cant agree if the rover's opening weekend of nearly 70,000 at 5 theatres is a strong opening or soft ?

  • Tech | June 12, 2014 5:25 PMReply

    Maybe you just have a short attention span. I think Joe Morgenstern summed it up better: Long on menace, often violent and consistently fascinating.

    And I prefer Peter Travers: All you really need to know is that The Rover is a modern Western that explodes the terms good and evil; that its desolation is brilliantly rendered by Michôd and cinematographer Natasha Braier; that Pearce and Pattinson are a blazing pair of opposites.

  • mort | June 12, 2014 3:30 PMReply

    This film perpetuates a stereotype of the perennial looser of the Australian interior. Nothing further from reality. As an Australian of the region depicted in the film, I can vouch that the movie creates an artificial "model" of the people it is supposed to characterize. The reviewer is right on the money.

  • threrese | June 12, 2014 12:43 PMReply

    Great review. This movie bogs down on large boring, obscure passages.

  • gomez | June 12, 2014 11:41 AMReply

    Great review. A mediocre movie with high unfulfilled expectations

  • MICHAEL | June 12, 2014 6:38 AMReply

    I'm from the region where they shot The Rover. And I'm with the reviewer - the phrase "empty tension" hits the mark. Maybe it's the familiarity with the area, or the frustration that our chief cinematic export continues to be 'Australian Miserablism', but there seemed to be little to no reason to set this in a post-apocalyptic world. In fact, more tension could have been wrought from setting it in the present day outback. Michod doesn't attempt to muck in and explore ideas like a sci-fi normally would. In fact, I couldn't help but feel his movie had a little contempt for the audience - whether it was the willfully random acts of violence, the lack of exposition, the muttering, the repetition of dialogue or holding on a shot long after conventional wisdom would dictate a cut - mined deliberately for humour in The Office, unintentionally funny here. I know Michod never claimed to be witty, but the lack of invention and lightness was particularly tough to take - it was blessed relief when a cinema patron sighed, "Oh for Christ's sake" during another languid driving shot.

  • Rory | June 11, 2014 11:21 PMReply

    Films that this critic gave positive reviews to that are Rotten on RT:
    Grace of Monaco, A Million Ways to Die in the West, and Transcendence.

    I'm sorry, but I have to question your taste level. And I have to question why IndieWire keeps you on. You're so out of step with reality.

  • fruma | June 12, 2014 11:39 AM

    Thank goodness for IndieWire to keep Eric as a reviewer I have been followed his work for two years now . He provides consistently an analysis of each film he reviews from the multiple facets what a film brings (artistic, the relevance of the story, the quality of the acting and most importantly whether the intended message is delivered). I Am with Eric on this review as well.

  • Joyce James | June 11, 2014 3:23 PMReply

    I personally place no value on critics opinion whose opinion compare actors performance on previous movies they have been involved in. I agree with Anderson that Robert performance in the Twilight movies were suppose to be statute like. Just as some critics stated on his performance in WFE, "he doesn't smile enough." Would you be a happy go lucky guy if you just lost both parents, found out you were completely broke, and the only job you were able to obtain was shoveling animal crap at a circus? Mr. Kohn obviously has a basis against Robert.
    I applaud Robert, Guy and David for a job well done! I've always been taught, If you can`t say anything good about someone, say nothing at all.

  • Nathalie | June 11, 2014 2:11 PMReply

    I respectfully disagree with your review. First I don't understand why people/critics feel the need to compare one movie to the other, in this case The Rover to Animal Kingdom or The Rover to more or less similar films. I'd like films to be judged independently, not with an already preconceived image in mind.
    While I can see what you mean by the film lacking narrative, I find this a big plus. Michôd drawed the picture, he leaves it to the audience to colour it or not. He doesn't make any statement, what he does is showing in a frighteningly realistic way what could happen if "that" happens or what is happening already in some parts of the world. As a viewer you can look for deeper meanings that are absolutely present, you can feel the deeper emotional layer if you want to, you can just watch the film and enjoy the superb performances of both Guy and Robert, the beautiful landscapes or not like the film at all. It isn't an easy experience but it is movie making like we don't see it often anymore and like most interesting films the second watch offers even more satisfying than the first one. Kudos to David Michôd for a very valuable successor of his first film.

  • nathalie | June 11, 2014 2:13 PM

    Sorry, correction: ... the second watch is even more satisfying...

  • Anderson | June 11, 2014 12:23 PMReply

    You reveal your bias with "while Pattinson finally moves beyond wooden mannerisms." Total BS. He is not known for having "wooden" or any other kind of mannerisms. He doesn't play himself in every film and he isn't even known for having ANY specific mannerisms from film to film.

    If you have mistaken his stillness in the Twilight movies for being "wooden," then you are mistaken. His Twilight character was supposed to be almost statue-like, and statues don't have excessive movements. Sorry you didn't enjoy the film, you're in the minority, and obviously, you went in predisposed to find something to pick on.

  • vrey | June 12, 2014 11:47 AM

    I did not enjoy the movie either as well as large number of people like me who walkout before it ended. If a movie does not elicit interest in the viewer it has failed regardless of what the strategy for presenting the story was.