As harsh and unsparing as the sun-scorched no man’s land of its setting, The Rover arrives as one of the most hypnotic post-apocalyptic road movies since the first Mad Max. That’s high praise, to be sure, but it’s easy to understand why it’s justifiable when one considers the involvement of writer-director David Michôd, whose Animal Kingdom was 2010’s single most breathtaking debut. Here, Michôd proves again why he’s one of the most exciting filmmakers on the scene, suffusing each frame of The Rover with an intoxicating undercurrent of dread.
Credit is also due to stars Guy Pearce, whose ruthless drifter could teach Clint Eastwood a thing or two, and Robert Pattinson, who successfully busts out of heartthrob purgatory with a performance that’s at once compulsively watchable and utterly heartbreaking. Even without the rich atmosphere, Pearce and Pattinson would be worth the price of admission.
The former plays Eric, a mysterious loner so terrifyingly angry that you can almost feel his blood boiling. Pearce, in a truly incredible turn, emotes a savage, barely contained fury with his every action. When the actor speaks, his tone is so clipped and brusque that it’s as if he’s afraid he’ll breath fire. Even his forced walk suggests a man locked in an internal struggle between solitude and sadism. It’s more taut and controlled work than we’ve ever seen from the actor.
When Eric’s car is stolen by a group of robbers fleeing a botched job, he gives chase, desperate to reclaim the one possession he still has. Soon, the drifter comes across Rey (Pattinson), the dim-witted brother of one of the robbers who left him behind to bleed out from a bullet wound, and takes him captive. Together, the pair set out to find the robbers and retrieve Eric’s vehicle.
It’s probably fitting that a movie as decidedly desolate as The Rover is outfitted with such a straightforward, bare-bones plot. The narrow narrative scope allows Michôd to focus on building a bleak and often beautiful landscape around his characters, while also affording ample time to the performances.
And although Pearce is the unquestionable center of The Rover, the actor finds a capable foil in Pattinson, who delights with an edgy, committed turn. Being written off after Twilight clearly made the young actor ravenous for riskier material, and he accordingly sinks his teeth into the part of Rey, the lone innocent in an emotionally barren world. In addition to keeping a handle on his character’s impressive barrage of ticks and tremors, Pattinson effectively plumbs Rey’s depths for every dramatic morsel, and emerges with plenty. Here, Pattinson is nothing short of mesmerizing.
Michôd lucked out with two so ideally matched talents, but the writer-director himself never rests on his laurels. Early on, the helmer establishes an unnerving, almost otherworldly tension, and he’s sure never to let any of that knife-edge ambience escape as Eric and Rey barrel along towards their uncertain destination.
If The Rover grabs you with its grim vision of the future, one thing that’s for sure is that it won’t relax its grip until the credits roll. Michôd conjures up an electrifying sense of menace lying just under the skin, on the cusp of bubbling over into barbaric violence. And he does such a fine job that when those moments of brutality do arrive, they pack enough of a punch to leave you dazed.
Lionsgate delivers on the Blu-Ray package for The Rover, presenting the film with a gorgeous 1080p high-definition transfer that fully captures the stark beauty and desolation of Michôd’s film. The filmmaker employed a broad, vibrant color palette for The Rover, and though the transfer has a warm, golden hue in places, that’s entirely by design. Detail is excellent throughout, from Pearce’s grimy facial hair to the deep blues of the sky. Occasional image softness is a small price to pay with a film shot on actual film that looks as good as this.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is also satisfying, providing a great mix of crisp dialogue, engaging background sound effects and Antony Partos’ eerie score. Occasional moments of violence are punctuated by impressively jarring sounds (like gunfire and smashing glass), but The Rover typically succeeds by making even its most thoughtful, quiet moments completely immersive.
Though there’s not much variety in terms of extras on The Rover, the Blu-Ray (which includes a Digital HD UltraViolet code) does offer:
- “Something Elemental: The Making of The Rover” (44:48)
Unusually well thought-out and put together, this making-of featurette is split up into three sections and discusses a wide range of topics, from casting for the film to the challenges of working out in the Australian desert to how various participants in the production felt about one another (spoiler alert: it’s disappointingly just one big happy family as far as this cast and crew is concerned). Some of the notes about The Rover‘s setting and tone should interest inquisitive fans, and the wide range of interviewed individuals is enjoyable to watch.
With its stellar video/audio transfer, the Blu-Ray for The Rover comes recommended. It’s a bleak and brilliant blend of Cormac McCarthy philosophy, spaghetti Western intrigue and Mad Max action, executed by an immensely talented filmmaker with the help of two actors at the peak of their powers. Relentlessly grim, emotional and thought-provoking, The Rover immediately enters the upper echelons of dystopian dramas. And though you wouldn’t want to live there, the battered world Michôd presents is invigorating enough to make return trips to The Rover very much warranted.
The Rover is an unsparing, unsettling vision, brought to vivid life by Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson, who are both better than you've ever seen them before.