Enraged Eric – ‘The Rover’

19 Aug

Robert Pattinson and Guy Pearce in The Rover

I think we’ve now reached a point where we can put together a sliding scale of just how horrible the apocalypse and its aftermath will be, based entirely on post-apocalyptic movies. The final scene in 2012, for example, gives the impression that while there may be a whole lot of earthquake-related PTSD to deal with, everyone is quite enjoying the round-the-world cruise aboard their giant, tsunami-proof arks, so we could score that a 1 out of 10 for bleak hopelessness. 

Right at the other end of that scale you have something like the nuclear holocaust docudrama Threads, in which life in Britain is plunged back into the Dark Ages or the big screen adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, in which survival means not only foraging for food but making sure you don’t get eaten by redneck cannibals.

Though most high street branches of Tesco were still open for business.

…Even though most high street branches of Tesco remain open for business.

Perhaps three quarters of the way along that scale comes David Michôd’s The Rover. Starring Guy Pierce and Robert Pattinson, and set in a dust bowl Australian outback, “10 years after the collapse”, the setting and subject matter were always bound to attract comparison with the Mad Max movies (a fourth installment of which is out next year), but in truth The Rover makes the Mad Max films look like Cannonball Run. 

Pierce plays Eric who, while refreshing himself at a tin shack passing itself off as a roadside tavern, has his car stolen by a criminal gang, headed by Henry (Monsters and Killing Them Softly’s Scoot McNairy). The gang are on the run from a botched robbery, having left Henry’s younger brother, Reynolds (Pattinson) behind, but when Eric and Reynolds meet, Eric forces the latter to help him find his car.

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What follows is a kind of road-movie-cum-western, as the pair travel from one ramshackle settlement to the next. Quite what caused the “collapse” is never really explained – it’s assumed to have been economic, with Australia’s mining industry just about the only infrastructure still up and running – but its aftermath is felt everywhere, from a glacially calm grandmother attempting to pimp out her grandson to a doctor keeping her dogs in cages, so they won’t be taken away and eaten by thieves. This might not be a world ravaged by environmental disaster or nuclear war, but virtually all sense of civilisation is gone. Violence is sudden, casual and almost inevitable in a world where law and order are provided by ragtag gangs of soldiers, rather than police.

The real revelation here is Pattinson, who I’d previously seen only in a handful of films, none of which were a particularly good showcase for his skills. Some reviewers have singled out his twitchy mannerisms and speech patterns for criticism, reading the character as a simpleton (one even mentioned Robert Downey Jr.’s “full retard” speech from Tropic Thunder), but I can only assume they weren’t paying attention to the film. Did they perhaps miss the moment when Eric overhears Reynolds speaking fluent Cantonese? Were they in the loo when Reynolds takes out a small army unit and rescues Eric, having dug under a fence to break into their compound? The character certainly seems more of a savant than a simpleton; and while Eric may be the film’s protagonist, Reynolds is certainly its heart.

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Pierce’s performance is perhaps not so much of a surprise, having delivered a similarly stoic turn in The Proposition, but his character remains fascinating. It becomes clear, following a shocking act of violence early on, that Eric is an unknowable quantity. If we sympathise with him for the loss of his car – even though his particular attachment to it remains a mystery until the very last scene – that sympathy dissipates pretty quickly, and soon enough it’s clear this is a movie without “goodies”… only “baddies” and “even worsies”.

The film’s major triumph, however, is in its depiction of a society that has come apart at the seams; indeed, one which no longer has the right to think of itself as a society at all. It takes only a cursory glance at recent headlines to realise that the barbarity depicted here isn’t far-fetched, begging the question – is the “collapse” referred to in the opening titles an event we have to look forward to, or something that’s already happened?

Let's face it - it's the latter.

Let’s face it – it’s the latter.

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One Response to “Enraged Eric – ‘The Rover’”

  1. viki August 19, 2014 at 2:24 pm #

    Good review. I hadn’t thought that ‘the collapse’ had already happened but you’re right. Looking at headlines right now you have to wonder. Scary because it’s so real.

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