Release Date(s)2014 (September 23, 2014)
Studio(s)A24 (Lionsgate Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: D+
When it comes to films about the future, especially ones set in a dystopian time period, few of them really capture the feeling of desperation. They spend more time world-building and tend to forget that they have characters that need to seem interesting. Thankfully, The Rover belongs to the latter group.
But The Rover is less of a dystopian film and more of a western to me; not in the traditional sense, but certainly in the look and feel. Sure it takes place in the Australian outback in a future where society has collapsed, but that isn’t what the film is about. The film is about its two main characters and their personal struggle, which is why the film shines and is one of the more refreshing takes on this type of story in recent memory. We’re never quite sure why Guy Pearce’s character is obsessed with finding his stolen car until the very end of the film, but actually, that payoff feels like much more of an afterthought. It gives his character a particular motivation that upon re-watching the film a second time loses some of its mystique. He’s just a complicated character, unlike Robert Pattinson’s character. He is nearly translucent. He simply wants to please those around him in some way, but at the same time, he does have convictions. They not be set completely in stone because of his disadvantage as someone with less upstairs than most, but he has them nonetheless.
And you’re certainly not meant to feel any direct sympathy for them, at least I didn’t feel that way. I simply felt compelled to watch due to their actions. They were constantly surprising me at every turned corner, yielding unexpected results along the way. And this is one of the film’s main strengths. Nothing ever feels routine. It always feels fresh. Sure you can draw comparisons between this film and Mad Max, but why bother? Mad Max is specifically about the future and what’s happening in it because of whatever downfall society has had. The Rover is the opposite of that. It simply presents two characters in a situation with the details in the background, and as a result, it’s much more engaging. We’re not being constantly reminded that we’re in a different time through dialogue or technology, or in this case, the lack thereof. We learn that through the interaction between the characters, such as when Guy Pearce attempts to buy gas through a closed-up window and the only currency accepted is American dollars. It’s a detail about the world we’re being presented, but it’s not hitting you over the head with it.
I felt that the film had more in common with a Martin Scorsese film, like Taxi Driver, than something like Mad Max. The stark but beautiful landscape and the scant use of violence, sometimes brutal, is affecting. But at the same time, it’s not really exploitive either. Again, the film is saying “here are the characters, here is the situation, watch what they do.” That’s far more engaging to me than spending useless time explaining the world we’re inhabiting for a couple of hours. Because in the end, that doesn’t really matter, but the characters do. To be more succinct, this is a terrific piece of filmmaking. It’s not a perfect movie, but it’s a perfect example of a slow burn movie that has characters that you want to spend time with and see where their plight takes them.
Lionsgate’s presentation of The Rover on Blu-ray is pretty spectacular. It’s nice to see a modern film with a lower budget (compared to most) having been shot and printed on film. Grain is absolutely consistent and unobtrusive; depth and detail are abundant, right down to the grubby clothes, skin, and hair of Pearce’s character; color reproduction, though given a washed-out look, is quite vibrant; and contrast levels are mostly acceptable. The only time the latter is a problem is during some of the pitch-black dark scenes, where black levels are a bit muddy and sometimes grey looking. Otherwise, it looks terrific. And there are no signs of digital tinkering to be found. For the film’s soundtrack, it’s presented on a single English 5.1 DTS-HD track. Dialogue is mostly clean and clear, but I found it to be a just a bit too quiet at times. I will acknowledge that this is an intimate film and quiet periods of time are expected, but things got just a little too whispery at times for my taste. The soundtrack excels in the surrounding speakers, and the film’s ambience gives you some nice immersion. There’s also some surprising LFE that’s used effectively. I wouldn’t call it a completely immersive experience, but for what it is, it’s certainly worthy of the task. There are also subtitles in English, English SDH, and Spanish for those who might need them.
The only extras on the disc include the short documentary Something Elemental: Making The Rover and a set of trailers, which also open the disc.
Last year I missed The Rover during its initial run, and I wish I hadn’t. It came out of nowhere for me and once I discovered it, I was surprised that someone hadn’t recommended it to me before. Not that I’d say I’d recommend it to everyone, just a select few. Maybe those who enjoy something more compelling than the generic or the loud and obnoxious like a lot of movies are these days (at least the mainstream ones). This definitely isn’t a mainstream film, and if that’s not your cup of tea, I’d say pass. This is not a happy movie. It doesn’t hold your hand or give you any soft landings. It’s compelling, tense, and brutal at times. If you dig that kind of thing in addition to something that takes its time with its story and its characters, definitely check out The Rover.
- Tim Salmons