The Rover (2014)
Written by Joel Edgerton & David Michôd
Directed by David Michôd
A man sits on the side of a dusty Australian road. He exits his car and enters a bar where he has to pour himself a drink. Meanwhile, a trio of men speeds down the highway having escaped some sort of shootout. The paths of these men and the nameless rover on the side of the road will cross. He will make them his mission to hunt down and put an end to. This is ten years after the collapse of society, so some pockets are attempting to retain order. The military patrols the outback. Store owners still want paper money in exchange for goods. But everyone is packing a weapon and death can come in the blink of an eye.
I think audiences who were aware of The Rover were expecting a sort of lo-fi 21st century Mad Max, and in some ways, the film touches on that, but it is not an action or revenge film. Michôd has constructed a tone poem about the collapse of humanity seen through the eyes of a man who is rotten to the core from what has happened around him. Juxtaposed to our protagonist is Rey, the mentally handicapped brother of one of the men the hero is in pursuit of. Rey was left for dead and over the course of the film is convinced that his brother doesn’t care about him. This is in direct opposition to a scene from earlier in the movie where Rey’s brother is freaking out in the car and convinced that Rey was dead at the time.
The Rover is not interested in worldbuilding the apocalypse or hitting strong plot beats as it is in floating through this bleak landscape and focusing on characters. Two significant events happen before the film even starts: the inciting incident with Rey and his brother as well as the moment that pushed our hero down this horrible existence. The details of both will be revealed as the story unfolds, but all we need to know is that our hero is a product of where society has gone. He is the first to realize he can live with brutality unchecked.
There is a scene where he asks to buy a gun, and the dealer just hands it loaded to him. This gun dealer is still trusting people like he did before the collapse. When the hero realizes he won’t have enough money he just kills the man. Later, the dealer’s friends show up and are dispatched with very little build up. Every time the film has a scene that would traditionally lead up to complex action sequence it intentionally undercuts it and people die quickly. This adds to the tension of violence in the film, you will not get long to realize someone is going to die and they will be dispatched without much fuss.
An interesting dynamic develops against the protagonist and Rey, a sense of trust that is undermined at different turns. Rey appears to be mentally handicapped but then shows a savviness our main character was not expecting. They stop at a store to pick up gas and the hero has a hard time negotiating with the man behind the bulletproof glass. After all, this entire film he has used brute force and threats to obtain his goals. Rey steps in and suddenly shows charisma, talking to the owner and even getting more ammo for them both. There is also the mystery as to whether Rey will harm his brother when he finally reunites with him.
The Rover is not a perfect movie, and its wandering tone could lose some viewers. This is not Mad Max. But if you were interested in a more introspective, quiet, exploration of the psychology of people in a deteriorating society, it provides a lot.