In 2010, when David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom hit big screens around the world to overwhelming critical acclaim, it almost felt like a revelation for contemporary Australian cinema. Smart, gritty, intensely unsettling and radiating a seething energy derived from an excellent ensemble of low-key performances, Animal Kingdom proved once more that with a fresh, imaginative approach there is no need for a spectacular budget.
Michôd’s eagerly awaited follow-up The Rover might lack some of the density and acuity of his coolly detached debut, but the film still manages to maintain a fierce tension despite the flaws in its fractured plot and characterisation. Starring a cold-eyed Guy Pearce and a deeply committed Robert Pattinson (trying hard but unavailingly to shake off his fetching Twilight persona) The Rover is a post-apocalyptic tale set amid the raw violence of a society in decline where the demise of all codes of honour is wryly acknowledged.
Ten years after an unspecified ‘collapse’, the blasted world in which angry loner Eric (Pearce) survives is one where greed reigns supreme, bullets are cheap and life is cheaper. Somewhere in that God-forsaken outback Eric has his car stolen by three passing outlaws. As he goes after them to reclaim his very last possession, he bumps into simple-minded desperado Rey (Pattinson), the wounded little brother of one of the carjackers, who has been left behind after an unexplained shootout, but still has enough life in him to help Eric.
It may have been better to not explain the reason why Eric stops at nothing to get his car back, rather than revealing it abruptly at the end, but more disappointing is the gradually fading force of Michôd’s storytelling after a gripping first half. While he succeeds in echoing the spirit of some of the darker, dustier takes on the genre by making excellent use of the harsh landscape, he fails to craft a seamless narrative of similar verve and refinement as Animal Kingdom. But still, what ultimately drives The Rover is a combination of danger and uncertainty, and Pearce’s captivating performance as he is perpetually faced with the realisation that things can always get worse.
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