David Michôd is not a warm and fuzzy director. The Animal Kingdom writer-director is more warm and sticky – in the sense of blood, the kind spilled impressively in his films.
Two films into what promises to be an extraordinary career, the body count is high, the survival rate low. Yet, like some cinematic ying to Quentin Tarantino’s yang, there is meaning and purpose to every act of violence in Michôd’s work.
In The Rover - set in a dystopian near future Australia where an economic collapse has rendered the country little more than a lawless mining colony – life has little meaning. It has none for Guy Pearce’s Eric, a shell of a man urged into life to pursue his stolen car with the assistance of a mentally simple American, Rey, played by Robert Pattinson, who for the first time warrants the adjective impressive.
Eric’s easy violence is not unthinking. It is uncaring. As is his open willingness to dispatch the puppy-like Rey should his use expire. It demonstrates a ruthlessness mirrored in Michôd’s ultra-Darwinian society.
Forced together, the impact of this pair upon each other is subtle and magnificent. Michôd’s masterstroke is to nurture this soul to his tale within a genuine, well-paced narrative rather than killing it through overexposure. The Rover respects its audience, delivering action and surprise with regularity, rather than miserly meting it out as a last resort to punctuate long bleak silences as many of this genre are wont to do.
While The Rover is a brooding, introspective film, thankfully it is the casualties not the plot that lack life. It entrances for the duration, surprises with its inevitability, and will linger in the mind long after the final bullet finds its target.