Overview: Ten years after an apocalyptic event known as “The Collapse,” a nameless man (Guy Pearce) tracks the thieves who stole his car. A24 Films; 2014; Rated R; 102 Minutes
Problem Dog: There’s an episode in the fourth season of Breaking Bad called “Problem Dog,” so named for a now-famous monologue delivered by Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), wherein he describes his confusion and anguish at the fact that he has yet to be punished for a murder he committed. It touches on the existential idea that the universe lacks inherent justice, and Jesse struggles to reconcile this with the belief that human actions have meaning. That scene is about five minutes long, but it’s as rich and layered an exploration of this theme as there’s ever been. You’re better off watching it than The Rover, which attempts to reach for these ideas but ends up falling on its face most of the time.
I’ve Got My Philosophy: One of the weirdest things about the film is how its aesthetic vision opposes its ostensible thematic bent. From the very beginning, director David Michôd displays a near-obsession with mirroring. There are match cuts from Guy Pearce’s character (who the film never names but is called Eric in press materials) to Rey (Robert Pattinson); there are identically replicated shot set-ups with slightly different contexts; Eric is attacked by twin brothers who arrive in two identical cars; the first two places that Eric goes to are run by women who are on opposite ends of the moral spectrum in their approaches to survival; and other odds and ends. All of this implies equality between the film’s major elements. Thematically, though, the film has a distinctly anarchist inclination, summed up in a scene where Rey tells a story about killing someone and tells Eric that “not every [story] needs to have a point.” In most areas, the film seems to argue that the lack of inherent justice in the universe means that people are only worth as much as they make themselves. This runs in opposition to the idea that all people are inherently equal. Maybe it’s saying that there’s an equality in that lack of justice? It’s a terribly confused movie, and its punchline of an ending (which probably wasn’t intended to be as hilarious as it is) doesn’t help matters.
The Deserters: The film’s strongest asset by far is Robert Pattinson. He takes the role of a mentally disabled man (which can so easily slip into offensive nonsense) and imbues it with physical subtlety and emotional complexity. He nails the character’s specificities and plays them in a way that never feels contrived. You have to admire Pattinson’s willingness to take on roles like this in such tiny, offbeat films after having achieved such massive mainstream success. He’s a very talented actor who doesn’t get nearly enough credit for his abilities. The same can’t be said for Guy Pearce, at least not in this role. If you’ve seen one “tortured grizzled white dude,” you’ve seen him in The Rover. The script’s refusal to flesh out his backstory is laudable, but it also doesn’t give Pearce much to work with. He sells the character’s barely-restrained rage and deeply buried sensitivity, but you’re left wishing that Pattinson was the protagonist.
Wrap-Up: Even a stellar performance from Robert Pattinson can’t save this confused, dull mess of a film.