THE ROVER, starring Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson (of TWILIGHT fame), is an Australian dystopian film set 10 years after a global economic collapse. The collapse has eliminated government services, reduced the population to barely subsistent poverty, and virtually destroyed law and order. The only visible signs of a functioning government are small military units that patrol trying to save whatever law and order is left.
The film starts off with Eric (played with a smoldering intensity by Pearce), a former soldier and farmer who’s lost everything but remembers, with endless regret and rage, how things were before everything went to shit. He roams the poor towns and the desolation in between.
When he stops at one town, his car is stolen by a group of men who’d committed some crime and gotten their truck stuck on some debris. Eric sets out in pursuit but is beaten on the road and left by the men. Then he comes across one of the men’s brother, a young man named Rey (effectively but sometimes a bit gratingly played by Pattinson) with a somewhat feeble mind, who was left behind, gutshot. Eric gets him patched up and off they go in pursuit to retrieve Eric’s car and deliver his own justice.
This is an interesting film on a lot of levels. It’s a slow burn, sometimes a very slow burn, but it does very well at maintaining its tension, and the random violence that occurs in such a harsh world is realistic and sudden. The soundtrack excellently heightens the tension as if betraying the seething state of Eric’s bitter mind. That being said, while the film has been compared to MAD MAX, don’t expect breathless car chases and action sequences. This is a character driven film, and Pearce is doing the driving. He plays Eric with an amazing level of barely restrained ferocity. He’s our hero, but he doesn’t owe you a damn thing. Just the way he stares at times makes you believe anything can happen, and it often does. Eric is a dark, violent and brooding anti-hero, haunted by his crimes for which there would be no punishment, and enraged by his lack of punishment–living in a world where such a thing was now possible–more than the bad things he actually did in the past. Over time, his growing bond and trust with Rey softens him a bit (even the music softens and surprisingly turns to a pop hit on the radio, again echoing his state of mind, as if he’s slowly being pulled back into the man he once was). Though sadly, he appears to be using Rey, however reluctantly by the end. His only major moment of humanization comes in the final scene, when we finally find out why he wanted his car back so badly. Rather than MAD MAX (though I see the resemblance), this film is more like a noirish Western set in a dystopian future.
The dystopia itself is an interesting element in the film. Everybody’s selling something, including themselves, and there are even some shops selling dirty wares while protecting themselves with shotguns. Australian money is almost worthless now, and many shops want U.S. dollars, hard to come by, for premium items such as gasoline. Justice is frontier justice. The military has been severely reduced and appears to be accomplishing little to maintain law and order. Everything is broken down. Mercenaries, presumably hired by corporations, ride as guards on commercial freight trains like something out of the Wild West. Overall, the world of THE ROVER is fairly realistic of what we could expect in such a collapse–the world would go on, people would survive, but they would do so in extreme poverty, with a subsistence economy. And with little policing and a dying government, violence would often be a matter of necessity to survive. Not something people want to do, but have to do, and over time it becomes the easy answer.
I highly recommend THE ROVER if you’re into post-apocalyptic film and looking for something that is a little offbeat, frighteningly realistic and strongly character-driven.
Check out the trailer here.