Monday, July 7, 2014

The Rover

 
 


David Michôd (left) on the set with his two stars






THE ROVER            B+               
Australia  USA  (102 mi)  2014  ‘Scope  d:  David Michôd       Official site

You should never stop thinking about a life you’ve taken. That’s the price you pay for taking it. 
—Eric (Guy Pearce)

Following the brilliance of his earlier film Animal Kingdom (2010), one has come to expect great things from this Australian director, who has turned to a particular style of end of the world, post-apocalyptic film that continues the tradition of fellow Aussies George Miller, who introduced us to the nihilist universe of MAD MAX (1979), but also John Hillcoat, whose equally impressive films The Proposition (2005), as well as his vision of Cormac McCarthy’s death march in The Road (2009), both happen to feature the star of this film, Guy Pearce.  It was Pearce, along with fellow Australian actor Russell Crowe that broke onto the scene with utterly exhilarating performances in the Hollywood film noir thriller LA CONFIDENTIAL (1997), where Crowe went on to become a big star, now reduced to something of a caricature of himself, while Pearce has continued to do stellar work all along.  This film is impossible to imagine without him in mind, as it’s largely a wordless, nightmarish, apocalyptic vision taking place in a barren Australian wasteland set “10 years after the collapse,” with no more specifics ever provided.  Don’t get to your seats late as what happens early determines the rhythm and tone of the entire film, as Eric (Pearce) wanders into a lone bar in the middle of nowhere, a quiet, dusty hole in the wall.  But through the window, we see a truck barreling down the highway upside down, where the bloodied occupants crawl out afterwards, and like parasites stealing other bodies as hosts, these three outlaws break into Eric’s car and drive off into the emptiness of the outback.  Being the enterprising person that he is, Eric is able to get their truck unentangled and goes off after them.  After a brief exchange on the road, where all Eric wants is his car back, he’s instead left for dead on the highway as the outlaws continue on their path to oblivion.  Things fall apart even further after that, like a trek into the heart of darkness, where civilization as we once knew it has all but disappeared, and what’s left is a savage graveyard of dead bodies and souls, where killing people is the best way of getting what you want, as words are a mere afterthought.   What describes this film best is the strange and eerie musical soundtrack by Antony Partos (who also scored Animal Kingdom), much of which sounds like industrial noise, but it has the capacity to reflect the altered sense of consciousness that pervades throughout this dusty landscape, certainly as effective as the legendary music by Ennio Morricone in Sergio Leone films, but supercharged with creepy effects. 

Introduced through a flashback sequence, Robert Pattinson as Rey is similarly left for dead on the roadside, and though badly wounded, he crawls into a vehicle until unable to continue.  By a strange act of fate, these two are mysteriously brought together in the vast emptiness, as Rey recognizes the car Eric is driving, claiming it belongs to his brother.  Eric demands to know where his brother is, but doesn’t get far after giving him a crushing blow that only knocks him out.  Driving into a surreal abyss, with dead bodies strung onto the passing telephone poles, it’s a precautionary reminder of what to expect if one ventures further, like a ghoulish nightmare.  A visit to another weird stop on the road leads him to a somewhat deranged grandmother (Gillian Jones) who passes as the madam in a dingy brothel, who can’t seem to understand why he’s so intent on finding his car, “What a thing to get worked up about in this day and age,” where Eric picks up some weaponry, but at a heavy price.  The menacing tone exists throughout the film, made even more pronounced when Rey comes to, where we discover he’s something of a half-wit, viewed initially as little more than a mangy dog left on the side of the road after being hit by a car, but slowly a more resilient personality begins to take shape, almost by surprise, but not until after Eric discovers the whereabouts of a doctor, a woman living in the outback (Susan Prior), where one of the more somber scenes in the film is watching Eric stumble upon a room with a dozen or so dogs in cages, where he sits and stares at them, identifying with their state of captivity and their loss of freedom, but they’re alive, all abandoned by their owners who disappeared into the night never to return.  After another horrific scenario plays out, a continuing pattern that recurs throughout the movie, breaking the mood of what is otherwise a movie set in quiet and near silence, Eric brings his recovering patient along as they barrel down the highway into the bleakness of the night.  While they presumably have a destination, as Rey’s condition improves, he freely acknowledges where his brother is likely to be, Henry (Scoot McNairy), and his two cohorts Caleb (Tawanda Maryimo) and Archie (David Field), as he’s just as curious about finding them, especially after they abandoned him.   

Though they’re on the road for most of the picture, the film is not so much a road movie, more a depiction of gruesome, neverending horror, where the grim circumstances never relent, shown without any trace of humor, but as time goes on, the movie delves into the psychological interiors of the two men, both considerably damaged, though Rey’s mental confusion makes him comparable to Lennie from Steinbeck’s depression novel Of Mice and Men, seen here as a kind of caged animal that doesn’t know his own strength, who is instead constantly viewed through the fragility of his mental weakness.  At one point he’s rambling on in the car about his farmer neighbors, this after learning Eric was a farmer before the collapse, until he’s rudely interrupted by Eric wondering why he’s telling him all this personal crap, and Rey meekly retorts, “Not everything has to be about something.”  The movie comes to reflect the shifting tones between these two characters, where there are subtle changes in their feelings toward each other, where the audience is drawn into this as well, as initially the focus is upon the heroic aspects of Eric, seen as a lone warrior against an out of control wilderness, but slowly the viewer takes an interest in the more vulnerable Rey, whose crazed ramblings may reflect the last vestiges of humanity.  What’s intriguing about Rey is his need for companionship, where he’s afraid of being left alone, where he’s the kind of guy that can’t decide anything for himself, as he needs to be told what to do.  In one of the more hypnotic moments of the film, in the still of night, while the two are sitting by a campfire, Eric intently tells Rey not just what awful things have happened to him, but what God has done to him, stripping through the layers, exposing his real fears, leaving him utterly defenseless to the kind of pain that is ripping the earth apart.  It’s the closest we come to the kind of excruciating pain and anguish, which is all that’s left in the world.  This film at least attempts to do what Béla Tarr’s The Turin Horse (2011), for instance, fails to do, which is get in touch with the end stages of human emotions once the realization is made that all is lost.  Rey has a flashback moment where the car radio plays Keri Hilson - Pretty Girl Rock - YouTube (4:14), a reminder of the superficial vanity that once was, an era consumed by mindless impulses and myopic convictions, replaced by a vast wasteland where there’s nobody left that cares.  As bleak as they get, this all takes place under the scorching 110 degree heat of the Australian outback with flies everywhere, shot where it’s 9-hours by car in any direction to the nearest civilization.  Michôd is excellent in creating a world that is frighteningly unforgiving and cruel, yet portrayed through realism and raw emotions, where every last character has become alienated from their former humanity, suggesting how easy it is for civilization to simply disappear off the face of the earth.  Something of a concept film, reminiscent of those 50’s novels where nuclear fallout would inevitably destroy the world, like Alas, Babylon, On the Beach, Level 7, or Fail-Safe, here one’s worst fears have already become realized and there’s simply no answer for the neverending sadness that greets each empty moment with an all-consuming silence. 

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