The Rover (David Michôd, 2014)
Bagging Australian cinema seems to be a national pastime in our country. This country, which prides itself on being patriotic (though often in embarrassing, racist ways) has a tendency to shun local films in favour of the bigger, brighter Hollywood fare, myself included. Last year I saw only 6 of the 26 Australian films that received a cinematic release, though this is in part due to limited screenings. I don’t, however, take the view that an Australian film will be crap purely because it is Australian. But unfortunately, a lot of people do. People won’t shun The Great Gatsby (Baz Luhrmann, 2013) for being an Australian film because they hardly recognise it as one. It seems to instead be Australian stories which many have an aversion to, which is super-duper dumb. There are some visionary Aussie filmmakers creating terrific Australian stories, and David Michôd is one of them.
After winning a crapload of accolades for his directorial debut, Animal Kingdom (2010), David Michôd returns with The Rover. I personally wasn’t overly into Animal Kingdom (though I did watch it on DVD which half ruins a film for me anyway) so I didn’t know if I would love this. But I was blown away by one of the best films I’ve seen this year. Be warned, it is not for the faint-hearted. If you can’t handle violence, you’d best sit this one out. And it’s pretty depressing. But it hooks you right from the start and is a stellar piece of story-telling.
Set against a harsh Australian landscape, The Rover is set in a not-too-distant dystopian future, “ten years after the collapse”. We don’t quite find out what was involved in this collapse, but just that society went to shit. The film’s anti-hero is Eric (Guy Pearce), who has his car stolen by a gang of thieves while he is travelling through the outback. Eric finds Rey (Robert Pattinson), the injured brother of one of the thieves, and enlists his help to find them.
We don’t get much backstory for either character, but we get what matters. The dialogue is similarly minimal, but rich. There were a few lines in particular that floored me. These characters are screwed up, to speak euphemistically. The ease with which they kill for convenience is unsettling, but what is perhaps more unsettling is a tendency for the viewer to start wondering “well why don’t they just shoot this person too?” (I’m totally not a psychopath). The film makes sure, however, to constantly remind us of the regret that these men experience in regards to certain murders, and the emptiness they feel as a result. And they don’t shoot EVERYONE. That would be boring. You’re never quite sure who will hit the literal dust and so you remain on edge throughout.
The cinematography was stunning. Society may have gone to shit but the outback still looked amazing. Even the wind against Eric’s shirt and the flies on Rey’s nose were beautiful. The music/sound design was perfectly eerie. There was also one song on the soundtrack which was unusually placed but it made for one of the best moments in the film, offering a brief and humorous reprieve from the drama.
The acting was A-grade. Guy Pearce was perfection – it’s hard to believe this is the same guy who got his period in the gender-swap comedy Dating the Enemy (Megan Simpson Huberman, 1996). He is AMAZING. R-Patz is totally DONE with Twilight and Edward Cullen and is proving his mettle with this role. Some have criticised his diction, but he’s playing a southern American with a low IQ, so I think he nailed it quite frankly. A host of Aussie film regulars pop up in smaller roles: Scoot McNairy, looking nothing like he did in Frank (Lenny Abrahamson, 2014), puts in a quality performance as Rey’s brother, Henry; Susan Prior of television’s Puberty Blues impresses as a resourceful doctor, and Gillian Jones (Love My Way, Packed to the Rafters) is terrifying as ‘Grandma’ – though that might just be her face in general.
Every element of The Rover is of a phenomenal standard. Hating on Australian cinema might seem like a cool thing to do, but it’s a tedious generalisation that Aussie films are all crap. No doubt there are those that suck, but it’s the same with any country – the ratio of crap to good American films is probably higher. So when an Aussie film actually gets a cinematic release at multiple cinemas, gets good reviews, and is generating awards buzz, you should cast your prejudices aside and bloody well see it.
For the record, here’s a list of some great Aussie films released since the new millennium: 2:37 (Murali K. Thalluri, 2006), 52 Tuesdays (Sophie Hyde, 2013), Adoration (Anne Fontaine, 2013), Animal Kingdom (David Michôd), Australia (Baz Luhrmann, 2008), The Black Balloon (Elissa Down, 2008), Bran Nue Dae (Rachel Perkins, 2009), Candy (Neil Armfield, 2006), Clubland (Cherie Nowlan, 2007), December Boys (Rod Hardy, 2007), The Dish (Rob Sitch, 2000), Goddess (Mark Lamprell, 2013), The Great Gatsby (Baz Luhrmann, 2013), Happy Feet (George Miller, 2006), Hating Alison Ashley (Geoff Bennett, 2005), I am Eleven (Genevieve Bailey, 2011), I Love You Too (Daina Reid, 2010), Irresistible (Ann Turner, 2006), Jindabyne (Ray Lawrence, 2006), Kenny (Clayton Jacobson, 2006), Lantana (Ray Lawrence, 2001), Look Both Ways (Sarah Watt, 2005), Looking for Alibrandi (Kate Woods, 2000), Mao’s Last Dancer (Bruce Beresford, 2009), Mary and Max (Adam Elliot, 2009), Mental (P.J. Hogan, 2012), Moulin Rouge! (Baz Luhrmann, 2001), Rabbit-Proof Fence (Phillip Noyce, 2002), The Railway Man (Jonathan Teplitzky, 2013), Razzle Dazzle: A Journey into Dance (Darren Ashton, 2007), The Rocket (Kim Mordaunt, 2013), The Sapphires (Wayne Blair, 2012), Suburban Mayhem (Paul Goldman, 2006), Swimming Upstream (Russell Mulcahy, 2003), Ten Canoes (Rolf de Heer & Peter Djigirr, 2006), Tracks (John Curran, 2013), Wish You Were Here (Kieran Darcy-Smith, 2012), Yolngu Boy (Stephen Johnson, 2001).