Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Rover review – an Australian road movie that runs out of road

Robert Pattinson proves his acting chops in David Michod's mysterious follow-up to Animal Kingdom – it's just a shame it squanders its early promise. 

It’s time to put away those Robert Pattinson jokes – the kid can act. He showed more attachment to the elephant in Water for Elephants than co-star Reese Witherspoon, but then he probably knew better how it felt:Twilight turned him into the most gawped at mammal on the planet. He cut like a blade through the first film, cheekbones set to stun, as pale as a rock star in recovery, summoning a palpable sense of threat. 

The series emasculated Edward as it wore on, shoving him to the side of the action, while Bella grew increasingly impatient – it was the only vampire series in which the vampires were afraid of the virgins, and exploited Pattinson’s greatest flaw as an actor: his passivity. He was coolly dissipated in David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis, as a megastar essaying the end of the world in blacked-out limo shades, but the film, and the role, both stayed well within the confines of the comfortably numb. In his new film, The Rover, Pattinson tries a different tack in his pursuit of a world seen without yellow contact lenses: he acts his socks off. 

When we first see him, he is face down in the Australian outback, bleeding out into the dirt. He’s been abandoned by his brother (Scoot McNairy), who heads up a gang of thugs making their getaway in a truck, with another member bleeding in the back. What they have done, or even who they are, is never made clear. The film, directed by David Michod, is set “10 years after the collapse”, in a future where resources like petrol and water have gone much the same place as the world’s reserves of narrative exposition. 

The whole thing is told in the mythic-elliptic style first pioneered in the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone and later retrofitted as pulp by George Miller in the Mad Max films, where the post-apocalypse means never having to explain yourself. This movie gives nothing up. 

So we never find out the exact circumstances that led to Pattinson being left for dead, or why he is speaking in a southern white trash accent, while everyone else speaks Australian, or why he is being hunted by squadron of American soldiers. Did he desert? What is important is that he crosses paths with Guy Pearce, about whom we know even less, except that a) he never cracks a smile, b) he looks pissed even before the gang make off with his car, and c) he wants it back. That’s how mythic he is: his character is carved out in the dust cloud left by his actions. He’s the Man With No Ride Home. 

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