When I saw the first Transformers film, I thought that the good moments were really good and the bad moments were really bad, without much of anything in between. When I saw the third Transformers film, I thought that the good moments were mind-blowingly good and the bad moments were soul-crushingly painful, with even less in between. I didn’t see the second movie, because so much behind the scenes went wrong that it never stood a chance. And I won’t see the fourth movie because I know that the sharp divide in quality will only get wider. The films will only get more polarizing and no effort will be made to change the formula that keeps raking in millions, no matter how much bullshit gets spewed about a “soft reboot” (whatever that is). There is precisely zero point in reviewing the film, so I won’t bother.
Instead, I decided to stop by the Fox Tower and see if I could catch up on some lesser-known fare. Mostly due to timing, and partly due to the puzzling Guy Pearce/Robert Pattinson combo (with a story by Joel Edgerton, of all people), I went in to see The Rover.
In retrospect, I might have been better off reviewing Transformers. Any one of them, really.
The Rover begins with a title card to set the stage in “Australia, ten years after The Collapse” (we’ll get back to that later). This is followed by something like a solid minute of watching Guy Pearce stare off into the distance as flies hover around his mud-caked face. Right off the bat, I could tell this was going to be one of “those” movies, the ones so pretentious and interminably paced that only the most die-hard arthouse fanatics would tolerate it. In fact, this was something far worse.
The token premise concerns Guy Pearce’s character, whose car gets stolen by a trio of wandering assassins — one of whom is Henry, played by an underutilized Scott McNairy — running from their latest job. It’s really that simple. Some guy gets his POS car stolen, and he wants it back. Even after he takes the thieves’ truck, which is somehow still perfectly intact after rolling over multiple times. Anyway, he eventually meets up with Henry’s dim-witted brother (Rey, played by Robert Pattinson), who agrees to act as a guide and companion, and that’s it. That’s the entire premise.
Who is Guy Pearce’s character? What’s his name? Why does he want his car so badly that he’d travel and slaughter his way through Australia to get it back? All of these questions are asked explicitly and he answers precisely none of them. The last point does eventually get an answer in the last thirty seconds, but that explanation is so insultingly stupid I won’t even discuss it here.
Pearce plays a man who speaks entirely in questions and commands. When he asks a question and doesn’t get an answer, he’ll repeat the question roughly two or three times until he gets the answer he wants. If he gives an order and someone doesn’t follow it, the same thing happens. He demands everything of the characters around him and gives absolutely nothing in return. This creates the strong impression that when you get right down to it, there’s nothing to know. The character is so thinly developed that he doesn’t even deserve to be called as such. He’s a non-entity who exists only to advance a non-existent plot.
There’s one moment at roughly the 20-minute mark that perfectly sums up the entire movie. Our protagonist comes across a midget (you heard me) who agrees to sell him a gun. But the midget asks for a price that our protagonist either can’t or won’t pay. So Pearce’s character shoots the midget through the head at point-blank range and takes the gun anyway. To recap: A character we know nothing about got killed by a character we have no reason to care about, all so the protagonist could continue on his undefined penny-ante quest. Not only was the kill very bloody and clearly shown on camera, but it was carried out for absolutely no reason and happened without any real consequence.
In short, this movie showed a guy’s head getting blown to pieces right in front of me, and my only reaction was apathy. Say what you will about Michael Bay, but he’s never been that much of a failure even on his worst day.
Before I elaborate further, let’s take a step back and consider “The Collapse.” As to what collapsed, how it collapsed, and why it collapsed, your guess is good as mine. I presume that this is a post-apocalyptic film, since the film takes place on the barren wastelands of Australia (the very same deserts where the Mad Max films were shot, most likely), but that doesn’t answer the central questions of how and why. Because the film isn’t even interested in asking those questions.
By definition, any post-apocalypse movie will be set in a world wiped blank. But most movies use the blankness as a means to an end, either to make some commentary about the human condition, to set the stage for some sweeping adventure, or both. But in this film, it’s almost like the blankness is an end in itself. The movie is set in a moral/intellectual vacuum, and the details are considered irrelevant.
Though there is mention of a government, it’s established as so corrupt and negligent that it may as well not exist. This means that their military peacekeeping force could more or less do anything they want and get away with it indefinitely. Moreover, the military is so inept that one guy could — and does! — take out an entire base with nothing but a pistol and walk away completely unharmed.
Logic is so nonexistent in this film that paper money somehow still has value even though the characters themselves point out how stupid that is. Because the rules and values of this world are completely out of whack, so are the motivations and development arcs of its characters. Worst of all, the lack of rules means that there are no consequences, which means that absolutely everything the characters do and everything we see onscreen is entirely pointless.
In summary, the characters do whatever they want for absolutely no reason, secure in the certain knowledge that nothing will happen against them for it, and their actions ultimately accomplish nothing. If that’s not the definition of a non-existent plot, I don’t know what is.
It’s very difficult to find any kind of thematic meaning in all the nothing that happens, but again, I think that the nothing is the point. Pearce gets a monologue roughly halfway through the movie, ruminating on how pathetic it is that our lives are meaningless and nothing we do will amount to much. And that might be true in the world this movie takes place in, but it’s so far removed from any rational reality that it’s hard for any audience in the here and now to find any worthwhile meaning in the sentiment. And anyway, if civilization ever collapsed to the degree shown in this movie, we might have bigger things to worry about.
The pacing is so bad that I completely lost all patience with this movie within fifteen minutes. The score is so awful that it’s like composer Antony Partos tried to fill all the empty space by throwing together whatever random noises he could find. The visuals are okay, but that’s mostly because of the gorgeous Australia countryside. When it comes to the interior shots, its like no effort was made in the set design except to shoot in the crappiest buildings they could find.
If there’s any bright spot to be found in this movie, it’s with our lead actors. Guy Pearce doesn’t have the screen presence to make his character the least bit watchable or the charisma to suggest any worthwhile mystique, but that doesn’t stop him from trying. He brings a level of energy that would elevate any other film, but it only serves to further demonstrate how hollow this character really is.
As for Robert Pattinson, I must say that if the film did nothing else, it proved that Pattinson is so much more than some idle teen heartthrob. Pattinson quite clearly plays Rey as a young man with some kind of mental disability, but never to an offensive or comical degree. Though Rey may be simple, there are (plot-motivated) times when he’s clearly got more than two brain cells to rub together. Though he wants to be a competent killer like Pearce’s character or his brother, that comes from an innocent place of trying to be helpful to the ones he cares about. And anyway, it’s not like killing is treated as a huge deal where this film is set.
Put simply, when RDJ’s character in Tropic Thunder warned against “going full retard,” this is exactly the kind of masterful balance he was talking about. It’s an extraordinary performance that creates the film’s only sympathetic character.
That said, there’s no getting around the fact that our two main characters are a pair of dim-witted brutes. We never learn anything about them, we have no reason to care for them, and they have precious little reason to trust each other. I remember one scene late in the second act when Rey is bugging Pearce’s character to know more about him, and Pearce keeps stonewalling the guy. The whole time, I kept begging to know when one of them was going to shoot the other. Or maybe they could’ve shot me.
The Rover really should have been called Nothing: The Movie. There is no plot, no character development, and no reason for any of the characters do anything. There are no thematic discussions to justify the post-apocalyptic setting, which is given no exposition or explanation. There was no effort put into the score or the set design. Any good visual moments are due entirely to the Australian scenery and any good moments from our lead actors are due entirely to the actors playing them.
The movie is so ungodly boring and void of any valid purpose that the 103-minute runtime felt like weeks. There is nothing here worth watching and even less worth recommending. Avoid at all costs.