In a dangerous near-future in the Australian desert, ten years after the collapse of the western economic system, Eric (Pearce) has left everything behind, but when his last possession is stolen by a gang of dangerous criminals, Eric sets off on a hunt to find them. Along the journey, he enlists the help of Rey (Pattinson), a naïve and injured member of the gang, who was left behind.
The last several years have brought some fantastic films from Australian filmmakers. From the artsy (like 'The Assassination of Jesse James by Coward Robert Ford,' 'The Road' and 'Killing Them Softly') to the entertaining (like 'Tomorrow, When the War Began' and 'The Great Gatsby'. One of the up-and-comers through this period is David Michôd, the writer/director of Oscar-nominated and critically praised 'Animal Kingdom.' His second feature film, 'The Rover,' should satisfy those that have been anticipating what he'll do next.
The opening title card of 'The Rover' sets the film up as taking place in "Australia, ten years after the collapse." What exactly "the collapse" is, we don't know, but western society has fallen. Australia is now a scattered melting pot, a wild frontier. Morality no longer exists, as rules can hardly be enforced in this unorganized nation. Imagine the world of 'Mad Max,' just without the crazy characters and heightened sensationalized action. 'The Rover' takes the post-apocalyptic premise and applies it to reality.
Guy Pearce stars as Eric, a quiet man who is not to be underestimated or screwed with. The best description of his character comes from Michôd in the making-of documentary found on this Blu-ray disc. He says that Eric possesses a "jaded resentment that's bubbling in a dangerous, murderous sort of way." The film opens with Eric taking a break from his long drive to … somewhere … by stopping at a shack-of-a-home that doubles as a storefront. While getting a drink, a pick-up truck crashes out front. The rollover wreckage doesn't phase him in the slightest, but when the high-ended getaway vehicle comes to a crashing halt, the three wanted thieves inside abandon it and steal Eric's parked car. With a silent ferocity, Eric jumps into their truck, manages to get it unstuck and goes after them.
Enter Robert Pattinson. The 'Twilight' star hasn't played a role that shows he has any solid acting talent … until now. At this point in the year, his performance in 'The Rover' is on my shortlist for Best Supporting Actor. Pattinson plays Rey, the younger brother of one of the thieves on the run. During a shootout with soldiers that happened prior to start of the narrative, he took a slug in the belly that left his brother (Scoot McNairy) and the other two accomplices believing that he was dead. Left behind, severely wounded Rey has to find a way to get the hell out of dodge on his own. Fleeing the scene in camouflaged Humvee, he can only get so far. So, when he sees his brother's dusty truck parked on the side of the road, he pulls over with the belief that he's going to be safe. Unbeknownst to him, this is now Eric's truck. When Eric discovers that Rey is the bleeding-out brother of one of the guys who stole his car, he helps Rey get the slug out of his stomach and forces him to guide him to the brother's home.
'The Rover' is like a road trip buddy movie where the characters certainly aren't buddies, no one is having any fun, there is danger around every corner, and this isn't a road that you'd ever want to be driving down. Although the plot is extremely simple – it's about a guy that's mysteriously hellbent on getting his car back – their road trip features a few major tension-building obstacles. And although those things heighten the audience's attraction to the film, it's really the characters that make it all worthwhile. Despite one being a silent badass that's unpredictable and not to be messed with and the other being a simple kid that was obviously coaxed into doing something awful by his brother, their unlikely combination is brilliant, a pairing that most writers try to fabricate but can't quite nail. 'The Rover' succeeds and it's because Michôd and co-writer Joel Edgerton nailed the characters.
The fantastic leading actors are the ones who bring the characters to life, but the story itself is brought to life by the great crew that collectively made the movie happen. The cinematography is stellar. Much like a classic western, it shows the beauty in the flat, dusty and dreary landscape that spans the vast horizon. Almost every crystal clear scenery shot in 'The Rover' could be a postcard. The pacing of the film is on the slow side, but it's done that way to optimize tension and to allow you to sink into the world and scenario in which it's set. Many shots are lengthened beyond the norm and the typical to allow the actors to show what they're capable of. One of my favorite scenes in the entire film is a long single shot that gives us a tad more insight to Rey. Completely unfitting for the story, the film and the soundtrack, it unexpectedly features a loud pop song – but it absolutely works. Like this beautiful moment, Michôd takes risks with 'The Rover' and I genuinely believe that they pay off.
Reviews and audience response to 'The Rover' were decent, but there seemed to be a large divide between those who loved it and those who loathed it. Although I personally love it, I know a few people who deem it the worst film in years. The stem of the disdain seems to be in the film's ending. Apparently, many were left with a "what does it mean?" response. If you'll be attentive while watching the film and put a little after thought into it, you shouldn't fall victim to this same frustration. There's a lot to be pulled from 'The Rover' if you'll take the time to put some thought into it.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Lionsgate has placed 'The Rover' on a Region A BD-25 disc (I initially groaned when I saw the disc size, but when you read the video review below, you'll see that it's not a bad thing). The disc is housed in a standard blue eco-Elite keepcase that includes a code for an Ultraviolet copy of the film. One of my favorite aspects of this film's physical release is something that I've been wanting distributors to do since the advent of cardboard slipcovers: the slipcover art is different from the Elite case's art. Both covers feature fantastic designs. Upon inserting the disc, you're forced to watch an FBI warning and a Lions Gate vanity reel prior to skippable trailers for 'Locke,' 'Enemy,' 'Under the Skin,' 'Spring Breakers' and Epix.
'The Rover' lands on Blu-ray with a very strong 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode with a 2.40:1 aspect ratio. The smaller than expected 25-gig Blu-ray disc initially worried me, but once I popped it and watched the film, I learned that the disc size does not compromise the integrity of the video quality whatsoever. The bands, aliasing, noise and crushing that I expected are 100 percent absent. You'd never know that this disc was a BD-25 by simply watching the film.
The picture's sharpness and high detail become apparent in the very first scene with Pearce. He pulls his car onto the shoulder of the two lane highway and comes to a stop. A long close-up of his face begins. The individual salt-and-pepper hairs of his beard are visible. The pores on his cheeks just under his eyes can be counted one by one. And the tiny wrinkles around his eyes reveal his weathered and worn down appearance. Details and textures like this are abundance throughout the film. You'll see sweat beads on the actors' faces in nearly every scene. And you'll also see individual flies buzzing around, which is almost as consistent as the beads of sweat.
The film's bleak color palette mostly consists of earthtones. Occasionally, there will be hints of vibrant colors that never comes to satisfying fruition. The only color to vibrantly take stage is red, and even then it only appears deeply in pools and collections of blood. Nights bring deep black levels and lighting that desaturates the fleshtones. The only flawed black level sequence occurs just prior to the climax. As Pearce and Pattinson stand outside a home in the early moments of sunrise, contrast is blown out a tad, causing the should-be black levels to appear gray. Truthfully, this is the only scene in the entire film in which I could find fault. Aside from it, 'The Rover''s picture quality is entirely gorgeous.
'The Rover' received just one audio option, a great 5.1 DTS-HD Master audio track. The opening sequence gave me the exact same reaction that I remember having when I saw the film in theaters. As Eric enters the "bar," loud house music blares and echoes throughout the dingy make-shift home. It's so loud that it hides the sound of a the pick-up truck barrel rolling down the street. This is obviously a directorial decision, but I mention it because it represents the faithfulness of this disc's screen-to-Blu-ray transfer. The impressive audio is just as strong as I remember it being in theaters.
The effects and music carry the same level of high quality weight in this mix. Environmental effects are flawlessly used. This also includes silence. For some reason, Australia appears to be plagued with flies. Not sure if this is a national constant or not, but throughout the film and the making-of documentary, it is. Countless scenes feature an uncountable quantity of flies buzzing around the actors' faces. The annoying sound that accompanies them is just as present in the mix as they are in the video. In desert flatlands, wind whips sand around. When scenes unfold in those settings, you'll hear the blowing wind from side to side. In the scene where Rey exits the Humvee, you'll even hear the wind blow imaging granules of sand right to left. Sound is used when it sound be, and the absence of sound is used creatively. Just before Rey's brother and accomplices roll their truck, as the vehicle leaves the ground and becomes airborne, there's a fantastic moment of silence before the chaotic crushing, smashing and sliding effects hit. The climax also creates tension with silence and occasional wisps of sound.
The film's original score contains a whole lot of eerie tones and effects, unnatural and off-putting sound effects that convey the uneasy desired tone and tension. Music – be it the score, the bar's house music or the pop track that Rey listens to the evening before the climax – is consistently spread throughout all channels.
The vocal track is absolutely clear. Dialog never carries the faulty raw characteristics of the surrounding environments.
'The Rover' is not for everyone – but I believe the factor that determines whether you'll love it or hate it lies within your expectations and willingness to put thought into the film after seeing it. If you're expecting a simple thriller, look elsewhere. Although with a very basic and seemingly simple story, there's quite a bit of meat to chew on with 'The Rover.' The entire package – acting, story, script, cinematography, editing, sound, score, design – harmoniously functions to round out this gorgeous and thought-provoking indie film about society, humanity, morality, loss and loyalty/betrayal. Don't fret that it's just a thriller in disguise, because that's not the case. 'The Rover' has an air of tension that never lets up and is nearly unbearable when it's at its highest. The technical aspects of the disc are amazing: near-perfect video and fantastic audio. Only one special feature is included, but at least it's a bulk 45-minute making-of documentary. I know that it's early in the awards season, but 'The Rover' currently resides in my Best Supporting Actor (Pattinson) and Best Cinematography nominations categories. With qualities as strong as those the Blu-ray contains, this Blu-ray disc is highly recommended.