Despite its lunges of violence, fractured family relationships and coarsely handsome visuals, David Michod’s follow-up to his acclaimed debut, Animal Kingdom, is an altogether different beast.
Set in an impoverished near-future ’10 years after the collapse’, it opens with the steely-eyed, close-mouthed Eric (Guy Pearce) squinting at a desolate horizon. We’re in the south Australian outback, a world of blinding white skies and never-ending desert. Save for the occasional rundown gas station or sagging farmhouse that dot the widescreen frame, the bleak, bleached vistas never change.
Eric’s precious Sedan is stolen by three men (Scoot McNairy, David Field, Tawanda Manyimo) who’ve flipped their truck. Righting the crashed vehicle, he sets off in pursuit. Along the way he picks up Rey (Robert Pattinson), the wounded brother of one of the men, and tries to get him to spill the location of their hideout. And that, plot-wise, is pretty much it.
Viewers wanting the genre-trappings of Animal Kingdom and its deft interweaving of a colourfully savage ensemble – to say nothing of its character-rich yet taut, propulsive plotting – will be in for a shock.
And likewise, anyone expecting the gung-ho carnage of the Mad Max Trilogy will discover a similar world but stripped to the sun-bleached bone. This is almost anti-narrative, anti-action cinema, and is to Michod’s debut what Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives is to his previous crowd-pleaser, Drive. More than anything else, it rides in the dust-clouded trail of ‘70s existential road movies like Vanishing Point, Two-Lane Blacktop and Electra Glide In Blue.
The Rover is primarily two men in car, driving. Michod’s screenplay, based on an idea that he and Joel Edgerton cooked up before Animal Kingdom went into production, tells us little of the world before the collapse, of what the meltdown entailed, or of Eric’s motivation beyond wanting his car back.
There are hints and glimpses and the final scenes inform us of a crucial incident in our anti-hero’s previous life, but it’s a film that staunchly believes that less is more – and trusts the viewer to either fill in the gaps or to welcome them.
The technical credits are first-rate and both Pearce and Pattinson convince in their roles, the former mad-eyed and clenched, the latter confused of mind and slurred of tongue and possessed of a touching purity. Between this and his work for David Cronenberg, Pattinson is suggesting his career post-Twilight will sparkle like Edward Cullen’s skin.
Michod, meanwhile, confirms he’s a filmmaker of considerable talents.