The Rover is a tough movie to pin down. It’s a post-apocalyptic movie that doesn’t talk about the apocalypse. It’s a revenge movie without a clear motive for the vengeance. As much as this might look like a genre film, what writer/director David Michôd has actually made is just a backdrop. He’s created a dirty, hateful, violent world for us to simply watch people exist in.
The Rover takes place in Australia, ten years after “the collapse.” We learn that much in the first few seconds, and that’s the most we’ll hear about what brought about this world the characters are living in. And it is a sh*t hole of a world, to be sure, where stealing or selling guns and young boys is the most acceptable way to make a living; where there’s a thick layer of dirt over every single thing you will ever see for the rest of your life, and flies are forever trying to land on your eyeballs. Mad Max would take one look at this wasteland and say “nope.”
The major driving event of the movie happens right before the film starts. When we meet Eric (Guy Pearce), his car is being stolen by three men (including a wounded Scoot McNairy) fleeing someplace in a hurry. When they flip their truck outside a bar, they hotwire the closest car they find, which turns out to be Eric’s. Eric, for reasons that are never quite clear, can’t let this go and sets off on a Liam Neeson-level mission to get his car back. He quickly crosses paths with Scoot McNairy’s brother Rey (Robert Pattinson), who was presumed dead at that fled-from crime scene by Scoot and the gang, and becomes Eric’s hostage-turned-ally in finding the car. Pattinson, it needs to be said, has done a fantastic job in choosing his “Look, I can do things where I don’t sparkle” role. Rey is nervous and shifty, and what he lacks in intelligence he makes up for in a mess of ticks and twitches that are both irritating and perfectly fitting. Plus, he’s a great example of what ten years of replacing toothpaste with meth will do to your mouth.
There’s plenty of action in The Rover, as the two men travel from wasteland to sh*ttier wasteland, meeting, shooting, and getting shot at by locals. But the real meat of the movie is the unrelenting tension. The overwhelming bleakness of the landscape, alongside the ominous atonal score, plus Guy Pearce’s permanent rage face create a nervous, violent undercurrent that never eases up. Much like The Road, this is a post-disaster world that is simultaneously innately violent and disturbingly quiet. Michôd has created a world that is terrible, scary, and all too believable as being only ten years out. This movie isn’t edge-of-your-seat stuff. It’s totally enveloping cowered-in-the-back-of-your-seat, fetal ball of tension. But, you know, the good kind.