'The Rover'

The Rover explores well-traveled territory—but with far less humor
EDWARD, IS THAT YOU? In a switch from a previous role, Robert Pattinson gets out in the sun lots as a traveler on a post-disaster road trip in Australia.

Even after The Collapse, things should make sense in a post-The Collapse way. We accept that Mad Max is the only one who can stand between punk-rock barbarians and the homesteaders, without wondering (as Pauline Kael did) why, during the ultimate gas shortage, evil bikers keep burning up fuel circling the derricks aimlessly 24 hours a day.

One of the few post-Collapse novels that matters, Peter Heller's The Dog Stars, is smart enough to term out the end of civilization by the amount of time it would take gasoline additives to expire.

The Rover, David Michod's disappointing follow-up to The Animal Kingdom, has a cheery title: Led Zep's song, MIA here, would go well with long Outback drives. We're in Australia, 10 years after The Collapse. Some collapse! They've got trains and motels with clean-enough sheets. If it's under guard by gunmen, there's apparently enough gas and tires left for plenty of pointless driving.

Monosyllabic Avenger (bearded, jut-jawed Guy Pearce, looking like an angry Boer who just learned about the end of apartheid) is so furious that the flies don't bother him. He drives up to a middle-of-nowhere bar or something to mutely wash his neck. Three inept bandits crash their truck right in front of the place, during a vicious argument about whether or not they should have left a man behind. They steal Eric's car. (Pearce's name is Eric; mostly he Man With No Names it). With some ease Eric extracts the trapped (and hardly scratched) truck and Road Warriors down the three bandits. They pull over for the parlay, and knock Eric over the head; they don't do the common sense thing of killing him and taking his car.

Shortly afterward, Eric finds the gut-shot brother: a Faulknerian idiot named Rey. Sparing us Casey Affleck, it's Robert Pattinson using a spastic honk that seems to be a tribute to Billy Bob Thornton in Sling Blade. In cold pursuit, Rey and Eric drive to the Flinders Range where there is a physician of sorts—a lone woman doctor (Susan Prior). Just as Michod boasts of making sure there was no magic hour photography of picturesque South Australia, he also makes sure not to tangle the doctor into the plot. Fine from the point of strong silent archetypes, not so fine for the audience.

The U.S. dollar has replaced the rainbow-colored Aus cabbage, and there's some sort of military or paramilitary about: they're perhaps the ones leaving dead bodies tied to telephone poles as a warning.

In the press notes, Michon describes The Collapse as being like the present in Sierra Leone—the endless train we see is full of minerals "that feed the Asian century." And a scene of dogs kept in cages to protect them from being eaten by human predators does look like the Internet meme of the Chinese dog restaurant: share if you are outraged! It can be said that The Rover throbs with nativist fears that don't quite rattle our Yankee bones. The American public is only middling sane, but at least they're sane enough to laugh the Red Dawn remake off the screen.

There are so many places in the Outback, as seen in the Tim Winton/Martin Mischkulnig photo book, Smalltown, where it's already after the end of the world. The Rover's Super 35mm visuals do capture the heat, dust and terrible remoteness, and it is gawk-worthy. When comparing this, as some have, to Wake in Fright, note the lack of savage pleasure here; The Road Warrior looked like the end of the world, but it also had jokes, like the nostalgic gyro-pilot asking "Remember lingerie?"

An Australian understandably worried about hegemony might blame the ridiculous starkness of The Rover on an American writer, Cormac McCarthy. The only final humor is the dark mirthless anti-joke hidden in the title: all the bloodshed due to something that isn't valuable in the ordinary sense, except to demonstrate that the principle of the thing (and "the principle of the thing" is always the essence of McCarthy's common-sense defiance). It's as if The Searchers had been about the theft of Ethan Edward's lucky penny.

The Rover

102 MIN.; R

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