Australian cinema is having quite a resurgence as of late. A gritty, uncompromising kind of thriller has emerged over the past couple of years from Down Under and it has been exhilarating to behold. From Wish You Were Here to The King Is Dead to Animal Kingdom, Australian filmmakers are bringing it with equal parts beauty and brutality. The Rover, the new film from Animal Kingdom director David Michôd, is no exception.
The Outback has long been an evocative cinematic allegory for, say, the starkness of the soul or the expanse of the human journey, from early Peter Weir films like Walkabout to the Mad Max films to Rabbit Proof Fence, and The Rover easily joins the ranks of those past Australian classics. Starring Guy Pearce and a revelatory Robert Pattinson and taking place “ten years after the collapse”, it’s an economical post-apocalyptic cat and mouse revenge tale about a man (Pearce) “looking for my car…it’s got three men in it.” The car was stolen by Pattinson’s brother (the reliably brilliant Scoot McNairy) and his cohorts during a heist gone terribly wrong that left Pattinson’s character, a slow-witted man child, mistakenly left behind to die. Pearce pursues his car and the three men in it with Pattinson in tow as ransom. Things evolve—and devolve—and nothing ends up as you think it might, and without giving anything away, the reason Pearce is so obsessed with getting his car back turns out to be appropriate and satisfying. It’s a tough, merciless film, though; the landscape is barren and decimated, the people littering the land are battered shells, the dialogue is sparse, the music abrasive, the flesh bloodied, and the guns blazing, but it all adds up to a murky, hypontic noir that is one of the finest Aussie films I’ve seen perhaps ever. It’s about as warm and comforting as a bloody, sweaty shirt at the bottom of a bucket of dirt (you can almost smell the messiness on screen, it’s that vivid), but it’s a bold and fearless piece work and, if you can stomach it, a riveting must-see.
Pearce has never been better and Pattinson made me completely rethink his acting abilities (Edward who?). His performance here is a marvel, somewhere between Billy Bob Thornton’s Sling Blade and a young Jackie Earle Hailey, and if he weren’t so iconic already and we were looking at a debut performance from an unknown, he’d be a star all over again. And it’s always a joy to watch Scoot McNairy, here continuing a winning streak of brilliant script choices on his part. Everyone brings their A game here. The score is mesmerizing, the cinematography stunning, the production dusty and parched, and the casting of the damaged, unhinged characters who wander in and out of the film in harrowing succession is absolutely perfect.
Michôd is proving to be a ferocious filmmaker and he’s part of the reason I keep getting more and more excited to see where Aussie cinema is headed. A side note; The Rover is based on a story by Animal Kingdom and Wish You Were Here (a brilliant but overlooked Australian import from last year) actor Joel Edgerton, who I’ve been a fan of ever since seeing him and Cate Blanchett do Streetcar at BAM. Seek The Rover out, it’s a masterwork.