Director: David Michôd
Starring: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy, David Field, Tawanda Manyimo
In 2010, writer-director David Michôd announced himself as the next big talent in the Australian cinema with his remarkable debut feature, Animal Kingdom. The gritty suburban gangster story earned international critical acclaim and even garnered an Oscar nomination for Jacki Weaver. Now, four years later, Michôd brings us his second feature, The Rover, which he describes as “a dark, dirty, violent fable.”
Ten years after an unspecified catastrophic event, referred to only as “the collapse,” a man, Eric, living in a rural Australian wasteland has his car stolen by a trio of men, seemingly on the run, who have just rolled their truck. Eric sets off in pursuit of his car and along the way he encounters Rey, the younger brother of one of the trio of thieves, who has been left for dead with a gunshot wound. To Eric, Rey is the means to find his car. To Rey, Eric is the means to being reunited with his brother. After tending to Rey’s wound, they form an uneasy alliance, with neither knowing what the other plans to do when they reach their destination.
The Rover paints a bleak, nihilist picture. Argentinian director of photography Natasha Braier brings an outsider’s eye to South Australia’s Flinders Ranges, giving a stark, menacing quality to this barren landscape, this vast emptiness. The film seems to have come from an angry place within Michôd. The temptation is to refer to it as a post-apocalyptic film, but to do so would not quite be accurate. “The collapse” which precedes the events of the film is not as the result of an external force. The implosion of society appears to have been its own doing. The fact that traders in the film refuse to accept anything other than US dollars suggests that there is an economic element to this collapse. The world that remains is a harsh one in which survival is the only priority.
At the heart of The Rover are gripping lead performances from Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson. Pearce’s Eric is an unstoppable force. A man stripped of any remaining personality or morality, his pursuit of his car is single-minded and relentless and it is not until the very final moment of the film that we are given any insight into his motivation. Pearce and Michôd perform a delicate balancing act with Eric being at the same time the film’s protagonist and its most terrifying character. His ruthlessness and seeming disregard for human life is important though, because it serves to humanise Pattinson’s character, and draw us to him. Where we understand Eric as the type of man who can survive and even thrive in this bleak dystopia, the developmentally challenged Rey lacks that hardness. In what is undoubtedly the performance of Pattinson’s career thus far, he gives his character an underlying innocence and vulnerability despite his determination to appear threatening.
The Rover is a confrontingly violent film. This is not a reflection on the quantity of violence, but rather the coldness with which Michôd presents it. This world evidences a complete disregard for the sanctity of life. The first killing is quite shocking, because at that point we have not been prepared for the cutthroat way in which this society operates, but from there on it is a challenging, merciless film.
There have been numerous films in this dystopian wasteland genre, but none quite as nihilistic as this one. An unsettling but engrossing picture, in Michôd’s mind The Rover is a more hopeful film than Animal Kingdom. I would be surprised if audiences agree with him.
Review by Duncan McLean
Have you seen The Rover? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.
Directors: Pauline Chan
Starring: Guy Pearce, Zhu Lin, Claudia Karvan, Lincoln Lewis, Rhys Muldoon
For every Australian film like The Sapphires that makes a splash, there are dozens of other Australian films which just slip under the radar, without the backing to finance the saturation marketing required to be a hit at the box office. Pauline Chan’s 33 Postcards, an Australian and Chinese co-production, is one of these other films. A small drama which has made more of a splash on the festival circuit than it did at the box office, it is a well-crafted and touching film.
Mei-Mei is a young girl growing up in a Chinese orphanage. She has no family. She doesn’t even have a name. Her moniker simply meaning “Little Sister.” As a result she derives much joy from the correspondence she has with her Australian sponsor, Dean Randall. When her orphanage’s choir is invited to tour Australia, Mei-Mei sees the opportunity to finally meet the man who has meant so much to her. However, when she tracks down Dean, she discovers that all is not what she has been led to believe. Dean is incarcerated in Long Bay Correctional Facility serving a sentence for manslaughter, and has been there for the entirety of their correspondence.
It is great to see Guy Pearce, a genuine Hollywood actor, coming home and putting his weight behind a small film like this. He gives a restrained performance as the tortured Randall, a nice foil to the more exuberant performance of newcomer Zhu Lin as Mei-Mei.
33 Postcards is quite a lovely film about two lonely people who find comfort in each other. It explores the way that the act of sponsorship gives both characters a greater feeling of self-worth. For Mei-Mei it comes from the knowledge that she has a family, even when she discovers that family is not quite what she believed it to be. For Dean, it comes from the knowledge that, despite the mistakes he has made in his life, there is at least one person whose life is better because of him.
Rating – ★★★☆
Review by Duncan McLean
Directors: James Mather, Stephen St. Leger
Starring: Guy Pearce, Maggie Grace, Vincent Regan, Joseph Gilgun, Peter Stormare
It is the year 2079 and the President’s daughter has been sent on a goodwill mission to inspect a maximum security prison on a space station orbiting Earth when something goes horribly wrong. All the prisoners, the worst of the worst, are awoken from stasis and overtake the prison. With an all-out attack on the prison far too risky, the only way to save the First-Daughter is to send in one man, disgraced agent Snow, to get her out.
There is nothing new about the central premise to Lockout (it is effectively Escape from New York in space). There are a couple of thinly written subplots – one about the prisoners having brain experiments done on them, the other about the location of a mysterious briefcase which may be able to prove Snow’s innocence – but neither really grab your attention. It is really just that classic story of lone hero rescuing damsel in distress from maximum security space prison.
In this case our lone hero, Agent Snow, is played by Guy Pearce who tries his heart out but still doesn’t quite convince as an action hero. Unfortunately, the character is victim to some of the worst over-writing you will ever see. The tough guy wise crack is a staple of the genre, for sure, but in Lockout the writers seem to have set themselves a challenge to come up with a Snow wise crack reply for every single line of dialogue in the movie. After about 10 minutes he has smashed through loveable rogue and is just getting a bit ridiculous. It must have been particularly difficult for Pearce as he has been in some really well written films over the years (Memento, L.A. Confidential) so would have been only too aware how bad the material he was working with was.
I feel like I’ve seen Lockout many times before, but that not really a problem. Familiarity in films can sometimes be a good thing, particularly in this type of genre movie. The fun is in knowing the formula and seeing how the adhere to it or break from it. The problem with Lockout is that all the movies it reminds you of are better movies than Lockout (I’m thinking about Escape from New York, Die Hard, Alien). If Lockout was a just a bit worse it could have the potential of becoming a cult hit. As it is I think it will just be a below average film which will slip into obscurity.
Rating – ★☆
Review by Duncan McLean