Two of the great threads of Australian cinema over the years have been an inherent understanding of dystopian fiction- Mad Max, The Road et al.- and the horrific recent era of realist crime noir. Director David Michod was a torch bearer of sorts for the latter with his 2010 debut Animal Kingdom. For his follow up, The Rover, he looks to be bridging that gap. It's a solid outback western, if a little half baked, and boasts a fine unexpected performance from a certain Twilight star.
We're in the outback, ten years after the so-called "collapse". Guy Pearce plays the titular Rover and he's "looking for a car with three men in it". The opening scene sees them lift it in the midst of a high octane chase. Their crime is not revealed but we do discover that they've left someone behind (Pattinson). Pearce finds Pattinson writhing beside his car and decides that some questions should be asked. The boy plays it dumb, Pearce hardly knows what to make of him, so the unlikely pair join up and begin to persue.
It's a film which leans on the center relationship. They make a hatch a being mates, like Steinbeck's Lenny and George, two men ill equipped for normal life who find solace in each others company and then begin to mellow out. It's touching, of course, but will a Steinbeck tragedy ensue? You'll have to wait and see.
It feels as if Michod's on the cusp of something great here but for some reason can't find the nerve to take the necessary plunge. His world is built on ambiguities- one of the great tools of dystopian fiction no doubt- but he simply lets us in on too few. A seemingly endless freight train suggest Chinese control of the mines but it's also apparent that the country remains under Australian mercenary rule. Indeed, little is explained.
Perhaps most disappointing is how tame Michod's dystopia is. Considering the utter depravity of his criminal family in Animal Kingdom, the inhabitants of this world in collapse are fairly contained. Makeshift roadside shops operate under little defense. The pair spend a night in an untouched, fresh sheet motel. Shame on us for craving some depravity but in all honesty, it's just a little hard to believe.
The director does hark back to some of his stronger points though with counterpointed pop music interspersed in a rousing, almost adventurous avant garde score. Most impressively of all, the director draws a remarkably against-type performance from his Twilight star. Pattinson pulls off nervous twitching, shoddy posture and general writhing to great effect; his character's a classic fool and he plays it so.
Who knew he had it in him.