Written by Ankit Ojha
What to Expect
I’ve always maintained that the pace of any film is never a deterrent. Unless, of course, the pace allows you to catch the movie red-handed in the act of manipulating your senses; in this case, it’s a completely different story, and also – in a lot of major places – a failure in the artistic attempt of filmmaking.
Slow films, however, have given me a fairly satisfactory experience more often than not, mostly because of the absolutely stunning atmospheric beauty around the film that I’ve suddenly been able to notice and imbibe in me, apart from the mostly wonderfully written characters. There’s almost always a certain flair directors of such films have with silence – and the way they’ve been able to utilize it as a weapon to their narratives. Thus alongwith director-screenwriter David Michôd’s second feature length drama film The Rover gaining wide release and a variety of positive reviews, there have also been some keenly unfavorable comparisons to such dystopia-driven films as Mad Max and – a reasonably closer kind to – Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road (adapted into film by John Hillcoat). The problem with the aforementioned writers? The narrative gaps caused mostly by the drag in pace.
But these are exactly the kind of polarized reactions I heard of in such meditative character studies as The American and Under the Skin – both of which I immensely appreciated. This in itself made me want to give the film a fair chance, ’cause you never know how far the misunderstanding of a film goes in the minds of others. Michôd, whose last film Animal Kingdom received unanimous critical acclaim, would probably have a certain set of expectations stacked against him too.
The question – that I wanted answered since I laid eyes on the film’s intriguing, premise-driven trailer – however, goes back to whether the film would win me over. Because I desperately wanted it to.
What’s it About?
A decade after the economic collapse in Australia, a loner (Guy Pearce; Memento) ruthlessly has his only possession stolen: his car. Obsessed almost in his attempt to get it back, he takes a journey which eventually allows him to cross paths with Rey (Robert Pattinson; Cosmopolis), the only possible key to getting back his car.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
On a superficial level, who’d even care about a journey of getting your stolen car back? Nobody, really. Writer-director David Michôd, however, ensures that the narrative is anything but. The screenplay is supported by two of the most brilliantly written characters you’ll see this year. While Pearce’s loner is like a continuously running riddle, leaving the audience guessing his motives and the psychosis behind the ultimately impulsive decisions he makes, Pattinson’s Rey, who you’ll come to connect and sympathize with to a very large extent, immediately wins the affection of the audience. The dialog the two characters intermittently share might not be for a lot of people, but once you’re into the film’s fantastic atmospheric set-up, there’s a good chance you’d warm up to their conversations a lot.
But the dialog, while strongly placed, isn’t the mainstay of the movie. It’s the silence that catches you off-guard. While parallel editing isn’t a bad technique by itself, Michôd and his team seem to deliberately avoid that in order to take up the very act of moving forward two parallel storylines in one frame itself. Scenes are mostly set up by framing them just right; the depth and space accounting for all that can be seen in the background that adds to the story. There’s a strikingly beautiful scene in the beginning of the film that exemplifies just what I’ve stated earlier. Full marks to cinematographer Natasha Braier for bringing up such absolutely stunning techniques to the moving photography here, with the dual aim of looking absolutely gorgeous whilst also primarily supporting the storytelling – like an added device almost.
The editing, whilst linear, has a lot of well-tied continuity-heavy transitions between scenes. Editor Peter Sciberras, however, isn’t afraid to make the bold decision of leaving some takes on for longer than would otherwise make sense – and the great thing about it is that it works to a large extent. Some of the dissolves used as transitions here also look beautiful. I’ve noticed that a lot of what the laymen will call “crossfading” between scenes is mostly a fairly lazy exercise in transition in a lot of independent movies; heck, there’s even a bunch of commercial ones that have crossfades between two shots that will make no sense. Here though, thankfully, there’s an added dramatic flair to the dissolves that I can’t quite point to explicitly – but the dynamism of its usage in itself makes it pop.
The entire production design of the film boasts of a very broken-down, minimalist atmosphere – almost reminiscent to the universe of the popular Mad Max franchise. Lonely roads, dusty, dirty objects, and deserted, sandy ravines stretched out to the endless depths of both sides of the roads traversed by the film’s protagonists make for most of the film. Through this alone the audience is set up for what is yet to come. Adding to the atmospheric language is the music by Antony Partos, who returns to collaborate with Michôd post Animal Kingdom. Whilst most of the background score is very understated, it’s the very understatement that revs up the requisite emotion of suspense.
Perhaps one of the boldest – and probably most talked about – moves as far as music in the film is concerned, was the random inclusion of Keri Hilson’s Pretty Girl Rock in the film. The key is to understanding why the director decided on going along with the abrupt entry of the song in relation with the running events of its story. On a superficial level, however, there will most definitely have been a bunch of extremely polarizing reactions to the film, most of which would have concerns attributing to a sudden break in the narrative of an otherwise highly consistent movie. One cannot deny, however, that to do something as radical as that (at the risk of turning away a lot of conventional viewers) is a feat the director needs to be applauded for, if only out of respect.
So what’s not to like? The ending – the big reveal – can be a bit of a damp squib for some. For a movie that has received a stellar build-up, the reason behind it all will be a bit underwhelming to some sections of the emotion-investing audience. Not that the ending is weak by any means; the very justification of it all works in stark contrast to what the film gives away to the audience.
To Perform or Not to Perform
One of the strongest points of the film would most definitely be Michôd’s choice of performers in the film, which include powerhouse talents of the likes of Guy Pearce (Memento) and Robert Pattinson (Cosmopolis). Pearce, particularly, is near-damn impressive with his wide, ever-so-dynamic emotive range. With almost little dialogue to deliver, there’s more he does with his body language. The fact that the audience is additionally trying to solve his character history like a Rubik’s Cube almost definitely helps. While Pearce is brilliant, it is Pattinson who will surprise film-buffs; fans and detractors alike. Delving completely into the realms of his character, Pattinson delivers a highly nuanced performance that not even for once feel like he’s trying hard to be someone else. Consciously moving away from his Twilight image step-by-step, and for good reason, Pattinson is out to surprise, and surprise he does, with his acutely displayed emotion. Pattinson’s additionally also given an absolutely difficult, almost make-or-break, character to play – a tightrope walk indeed – but he comes out a winner.
Of the supporting cast, it’s Gillian Jones with the shortest and the most impactful role of the lot. The character she performs to may or may not play out well in relation with the storyline of the film, but as one of the random people Pearce comes in contact with, it’s definitely a memorable scene that stays with you for a very long time. Scoot McNairy (12 Years a Slave) is gritty and efficient. David Field as the calm-but-snarky member of the criminal gang is also good fun to watch. Susan Prior is equally impressive as the doctor. Others are efficient.
Well, that definitely depends on your taste of film. If, by any wildest of chances, you’re expecting a Mad Max-esque guns-blazing-shootouts-and-car-chases, you’ll be highly disappointed. The film works brilliantly as a slow-burn drama; a character study of two flawed and highly unpredictable people thrown into a journey against all odds. Written and directed with precision and conviction by Michôd, the movie aims not to please, but to tell a story that the director wants to be told. The movie will raise many questions; emotional, political, or even narration-wise; but the answers are best left to us as an audience to figure out. A section of the audience will question the authenticity of the film’s ending, or it’s inclusion of Hilson’s Pretty Girl Rock, turning the movie a few steps off being an absolute classic. That put aside, the film is still a solid watch for its exceptional writing and direction, reluctance to please everyone, and masterclass performances.
Recommended for the discerning, curious moviegoing audience. Deserves, at the least, a try.
Star Rating: 4 / 5