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- UAB Earth Month Festival
By now, the Dystopian futuristic action/thriller is its own subgenre.
Film buffs could arguably cite it starting with Fritz Lang’s classic “Metropolis” in 1927 and proceeding from there into such classics as 1966’s “Fahrenheit 451,” 1973’s “Soylent Green,” 1976’s “Logan’s Run,” 1981’s “Escape From New York,” and most recently, “The Hunger Games” series, as well as plenty more where that came from.
However, when I think post-apocalyptic thrillers, I tend to think of one series in particular: the “Mad Max” movies, the superlative trilogy of films from Australian director George Miller, which made a star of actor Mel Gibson. The series started with the film of the same name, reached classic status with “The Road Warrior” and came to a decent, if lesser, conclusion with the somewhat softened “Beyond Thunderdome.” So, when I think dystopian future, the “Mad Max” films are what readily come to mind.
As such, I was excited at the prospect of another talented Aussie taking a crack at the subgenre with “The Rover.” The film was directed by David Michôd, who also wrote and directed the superlative “Animal Kingdom,” which swept the Australian Film Institute Awards, garnering a whopping ten awards- the most ever in that country- and 18 nominations in total, besides. It also put Oscar-nominated actress Jacki Weaver (“Silver Linings Playbook”) on the map, at least in the States, and received near-universal acclaim from critics worldwide.
As with “Kingdom,” the film stars Guy Pearce (“Iron Man 3” and the classic noir “Memento”), here playing a jaded, bitter ex-soldier living in Australia after a global economic collapse has left the world in ruins. His most prized possession, for reasons you don’t discover until the very end, is his car, which is stolen after a gang of roving thugs steal it after wrecking their own truck on the run from a deal gone bad. Not amused, the man, Eric, successfully retrieves the truck and gives chase, intent on getting his own car back.
Along the way, he meets Rey (Robert Pattinson), the brother of one of the thugs (Scoot McNairy, of “Argo”), who was left for dead in the aforementioned deal. In exchange for taking him along with him, Rey agrees to tell Eric where his brother went. The two get into trouble with various people along the way, and chaos generally ensues wherever they go- though they are often active participants in causing it in the first place. That’s really about it.
The film moves at a deterministically slow pace, almost as if to dare the viewer to keep watching it. Indeed, there were several walk-outs at the screening I attended, including one right before the big reveal of why Eric was so hell-fire determined to retrieve his car. In short, right before the entire point of the movie was revealed! So, to say that this film is not for everyone is putting it mildly. Many are going to hate it, and not just because of the methodical pacing.
There’s also the fact that none of the characters are particularly likable, and what little action there is happens abruptly and tends to be relatively anti-climatic, save perhaps the tense ending. Pattinson, in particular, clearly looking to shed his image as the glittering vampire heartthrob of the “Twilight” films, affects a Southern accent that is grating and actively annoying, making the likes of Rick (Andrew Lincoln) of “The Walking Dead” and Bill (Stephen Moyer) of “True Blood” seem spot-on in comparison.
You remember the running gag in “Tropic Thunder” about how Ben Stiller went too far with his portrayal of a mentally-challenged individual? This is like the serious movie equivalent of that joke, as Pattinson comes off as not only dim-witted and slow, but affected in a way that has to be seen to be believed. Just to give you some idea, at one point his character wistfully sings- be still my heart- Keri Hilson’s “Pretty Girl Rock.” Nope, I’m not kidding, and I’m not convinced it was meant to be funny, either, at least not in Pattinson’s eyes. Maybe the director was having a go at him, but I don’t know that Pattinson was in on the joke.
The rest of the cast is relatively strong, particularly the always-reliable Pearce, who manages to make you feel for his character, despite there being little redeemable qualities to him, least of all when his big secret is revealed. He kills people with impunity, puts others in danger that try to help him, and is generally ill-tempered throughout the entire movie; and yet, you still feel sympathetic towards him, almost in spite of yourself. That’s called solid acting, people.
The film is also beautifully shot, managing to make the Australian outback look both bleak and gorgeous at the same time. The post-apocalyptic Dystopian elements are pretty subtle, and basically boil down to the American dollar being the currency of choice (now that’s science fiction, especially these days!) and people being armed to the teeth and heavily guarding their goods. That’s really all there is to it, so don’t expect any overt sci-fi elements or typical futuristic touches. Here, the future is austere and unforgiving, and not much else.
“The Rover” isn’t a bad movie, per se, but it is a bit of a slog. Some might see it about as exciting as watching paint dry, while others may might find themselves mesmerized by the near-hypnotic pacing. I was somewhat in the middle. I didn’t hate it, but I wasn’t jumping up and down at its brilliance, either. It’s definitely no “Animal Kingdom,” but then, it isn’t trying to be. I think the director made exactly the film he wanted to make, for better or for worse. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea- but then, what is?
I don’t know that I can go any higher than a C+ at best, but the rating may vary according to your tolerance for this sort of thing. “The Road Warrior” it isn’t, that’s for sure, but neither is it an embarrassment, save maybe the dubious casting of Pattinson. Beyond that, it’s up to you to determine whether it’s your thing or not. As such, renting or watching on TV may be the way to go, if only to save your money, lest it not be to your liking. Michôd definitely has talent, but this is a sophomore slump if I ever saw it. Here’s hoping the third time is the charm for this gifted filmmaker, but for now, “The Rover” is a bit too aimless for its own good.