Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 15, 2014 4:38 am 
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Going nowhere slow

It all starts with some bad men: old Archie (David Field), young black man Caleb (Tawanda Maryimo) and irascible American Henry (Scoot McNairy) in a dusty truck. There's a fracas, the truck gets stuck, and they steal a car, leaving one of theirs, a young man who's wounded, behind. Eric (Guy Pearce), the owner of the stolen car, runs out of the Asian bar where he's having a drink, furious. Neither the wounded man nor the truck is dead. He gathers up the wounded man, who's known as Rey (Robert Pattinson), and sets off in the truck after the men, staging a dangerous standoff that only leaves him battered. Why did the men abandon their own (Rey turns out to be Henry's brother), and why do they steal Eric's sedan when their pickup is only stuck? Why does Eric risk his life so easily in the standoff early on? These and many questions are left unanswered, and perhaps better so. There is not much talk in the movie and when it occurs it is ornamental, philosophical, or incomprehensible. The latter goes for much of Robert Pattinson's attempt at the jangled speech of a damaged American hillbilly. Pattinson's tics and oddities are entertaining to watch. There's talent there, though his character is inconsistent, terrified and incompetent one minute, executing a daring rescue operation the next. Pearce looks tired and desperate, without the former hard edge and panache, down to essentials. These two actors are fine, and the desperation and cruelty of the action are tough and clean. But it seems too fragmentary.

David Michôd's The Rover is not up to his celebrated debut, the gangster family saga Animal Kingdom. Any second Michôd feature would almost have to disappoint after that, if not this much or in this way. Animal Kingdom is rich in detail, in backstories, in touch with its Melbourne milieu. The Rover drops all that, except for Rey's beef with Henry that simmers unspoken till a final scene. The Rover is a mean, violent, humorless post-apocalyptic genre piece. Its setting is the flat sun-scorched wilds of the Australian Outback. The destructive Event was an economic collapse ten years before. No bombs. No visible destruction. Just economic and social decay. People seem to kill for little things. It's the Wild West with cars. Everybody needs a gun and ammunition. Dealers prefer American dollars. One man wants revenge against the world and he takes somebody's aggrieved and damaged younger brother with him. That's not much and we don't know much about this place or these people. It all happens with a fierce intensity, but no particular logic.

This is a well-made film though we would wish Michôd had made a different one. The images, shot on film, not digital, are satisfyingly fine-grain. The acting is good. The music, skillfully mixed with ambient sound, is very original and fine as Todd McCarthy pointed out in detail in his appreciative Cannes review. Ultimately this tale, co-written with the prolific Australian actor and now writer Joel Edgerton (who scripted Felony), winds up with revenge and family issues like the first one. One may walk out feeling disappointed but one should not feel cheated. Michôd has delivered good value, but in a lesser genre.

It's perhaps essential, and better, that we don't learn much about these people except for what's revealed in a few key speeches. And this is the classic Western style. Some of he action early on is gratuitous kinkiness: dwarves selling weapons and Eric killing one point blank just because he won't give him a good price; a genteel madam knitting who offers him gay sex ("You want to sleep with a boy? I’ve got a boy you can sleep with. He’s smooth like the inside of your arm”). And there is a haggard man who insists Eric buy something, if only a can from a shelf. This surrealism is obligatory; Jim Jarmusch did it much better in Dead Man with the humor this movie lacks, while also lacking the millennial solemnity of a truly resonant Beckettian tale like Cormac McCarthy's The Road (a shattering novel that made only a fair movie). For that matter, any great classic Western is better than The Rover. It seems the apocalyptic patina is only added on because Westerns are not fashionable anymore. But Michôd is still a director to watch.

The Rover, 102 mins., debuted at Cannes 18 May 2014 and opened in France 4 June, getting good reviews (Allociné press rating 3.6), noting the lacunae in the scenario and the lack of humor but admiring the hard, mean edge of the Outback action. Limited US opening 13 June, wider opening 20 June; UK 15 August.

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