The Rover

Image“Fear the man with nothing left to lose,” is the prominent message from the official poster of David Michôd’s latest film, The Rover. Michôd is mostly known for his 2010 film Animal Kingdom about an Australian crime family. Four years later, Michôd is back in Australia with a film Quentin Tarantino calls, “The best post-apocalyptic movie since the original Mad Max.” I am a true Tarantino fan and have always been impressed with his knowledge of the history of film, but I have 2 basic faults with this statement. First, The Road Warrior, the first sequel to Mad Max, is the best post-apocalyptic movie since Mad Max. Second, The Rover is not even the tenth best post-apocalyptic movie since the original Mad Max.

The Rover is a piece of cinematic naturalism thematically reminiscent of last year’s All is Lost but with more characters. It is ten years since an economic collapse has crushed the civilization of Australia. The film is rather vague about how far reaching this fall has actually spread, but it seems at least semi-global and has certainly engulfed Australia in its entirety. An act of chance causes a speeding land rover to roll over and get trapped in a ditch. The three passengers rush out of the damaged rover and into a nearby parked car, which they steal and use to speed away. The stolen car’s owner Eric, played by Guy Pearce, frees the ensnared rover and hurries off in the direction of his stolen car. What follows is an exploration of a simple conflict where we discover exactly what there is to fear from the man who has nothing left to lose. Eric fiercely pursues the gang of thieves until, in an initial confrontation with the men, he is knocked unconscious and loses the trail. In another act of fate, a chance encounter with an injured man named Rey (Robert Pattinson) gets Eric back on track since Rey turns out to be the injured brother of one of the thieves. Eric and Rey form an antagonistic bond and much of the film explores the nature of their unusual relationship.

Part Crime and Punishment and part Of Mice and Men, the philosophy of The Rover basically examines the human psyche when civilization decays, and man must determine his own values and refine his own morality. The idea is sound and fascinating, but the film is not. This is a slow moving film, regardless of the frequent scenes featuring high speed driving and some sporadic intense violence. Furthermore, the score is obnoxious in its attempt to be atmospheric, and the narrative’s overall plot is underwhelming and thin. The film rests a lot of weight on the relationship between Rey and Eric, but there’s not enough for an audience to care about, and by the film’s conclusion, I didn’t care what happened to any of these people.

The Rover is not the important film Tarantino touted it to be, nor is it the important film David Michôd hoped it would be. It’s not a total failure and Pearce and Pattinson are good. They try their best to get us to see the value in the crippled animal that is this film, but in the end The Rover certainly “has nothing left to lose” and should be put out of its misery. C-

The Rover is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 43 minutes.

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All is Lost

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In the early 20th century, a literary movement known as Naturalism caught on as war suddenly began to grip America once again.  Influenced by the work of Charles Darwin, Naturalistic writers wanted to emphasize the dark, harshness of life as well as man’s lack of control of the natural forces that truly guide his fate.  All is Lost is as close to cinematic Naturalism as I’ve ever seen. 

Robert Redford plays a character whose name is never revealed, a typical trait of Naturalism as these forms of expression look to stress nature’s indifference to man. This indifference is further exemplified with the film’s opening scene where the man (Redford) awakens from a nap below deck on his sailboat to find that a stray floating cargo container had somehow drifted into the side of his boat, puncturing it and resulting in the boat quickly taking on water.  No explanation is given for this circumstance or than that it presumably fell off of a cargo ship and, as fate would have it, collided with the boat.  The man is a pensive man; he does not react wildly or make rash decisions, rather he weighs his options and relies on his experience and skills.  Redford’s is the only character in the entire film, and he is also a man of few words; accordingly, the script for All is Lost is only 32 pages long.  Thus, writer/director J.C. Chandor’s film looks to explore modern Naturalism at sea as deliberately as possible. 

All is Lost is a riveting achievement.  As we watch this man struggle through a series of events set into motion by that seemingly innocuous cargo container, we are forced to mull over our own mortality and our own suitability to circumstance.  Last year, Ang Lee’s adaptation of Life of Pi beautifully captured some of what All is Lost attempted to capture, but that film was far more Romantic in its aspirations.  All is Lost instead puts plot aside and seeks to pit man against nature in a rigorous, albeit somewhat predictable series of events.  The result is a compelling yet extraordinarily minimalistic effort that does feel redundant at times. 

Earlier this year, Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity also pitted man against incredible odds in a far more successful way.  While both films depict man’s struggle with expertise, Cuarón, like Ang Lee before him, understood the need to make the film a visual spectacle as well.  Thus, those films certainly utilize the media of film far more than All is Lost, while All is Lost relies more on Redford.  Fortunately, Redford delivers.  The sharp, witty con-man from The Sting is no more, but he has been replaced by a weathered and beaten sailor who may have the grit to do what Johnny Hooker never could – win an Oscar.  B+

All is Lost is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 1 hour and 46 minutes.  It is a nailbiter and a triumph for Redford.  The score by indi-rock name Alex Ebert is also characteristically right on.