Written and directed by David Michôd, the writer and directory behind 2011’s mesmerising and universally acclaimed Animal Kingdom, The Rover is a ferocious slow burn thriller, in the tradition of an iconic western, with a classic anti-hero at its centre.
Set in the Australian Outback, ten years after a great Western economic collapse. It’s a near future of social and economic decay. Services, utilities, law and order have fallen into dangerous disrepair. And yet people from all corners of the world have come to this place to work the mines that feed the Asian century, and with them have come the leeches, refuse, hustlers and criminals who hope to exploit the mines’ margins.
In the middle of this world is Eric (Guy Pearce), alone and empty – once a farmer, now a drifter, little more than a shell of anger and ennui. He has nothing left but his car and the road. We meet him mid-journey, possibly his last. He pulls up at a dirty Cambodian diner in the middle of nowhere. He steps into its emptiness and unbearably loud pop music. Two Khmer guys slump asleep in a corner. Eric takes a seat at the bar and helps himself to tea.
When a gang of petty criminals flee the scene of a scam gone horribly wrong, they crash their truck outside the Cambodian diner and manage to crawl out of the wreck and steal Eric’s car. And thus the story begins. Eric will do whatever he must to get his car back.
He manages to get the gang’s wrecked vehicle back on the road and is soon confronted by the badly wounded Rey (Robert Pattinson), Henry’s young and seemingly simple little brother, left behind to die in the aftermath mess of the gang’s heist-gone-wrong. Eric and Rey are forced into an unlikely partnership. Eric wants his car back and the young and naïvely helpless Rey is the only person who knows where it might have gone.
Together they travel the desert roads, encountering the refuse and survivors of the new/old Australian landscape – murderous carnival workers and circus performers, Asian refugees and Aboriginal kids, traumatised shopkeepers and the remaining fragments of a besieged and disillusioned military trying to hold the world together.
The idea for The Rover was first conceived in 2007 when friend and actor Joel Edgerton and Michôd were in Los Angeles, contemplating their next steps. “We worked for about 10 days nutting out the bare skeleton of a story. Then I went away and started writing the script, and got emotionally involved in it and started feeling like I really wanted to direct it,” recalls Michôd.
Michôd left The Rover on ice while he went away and made Animal Kingdom, not knowing what was in store for the sleeper success that culminated in an Academy-Award nomination for Jacki Weaver, amongst countless other awards and acclaim. Following the excitement of Animal Kingdom’s international release, Michôd decided that his next film would be The Rover and he chose to return to Australia and make the film locally.
Shot over a seven-week period in remote South Australia, the Flinders Ranges was the most logical choice for the filmmakers. The shoot was a road trip of sorts, that wound through the incredible beauty and starkness of the Flinders Ranges, and saw visits to towns along this stretch including Quorn, Bruce, Hammond, Parachilna and Leigh Creek.
The longest stay (three weeks) was in Marree, a small town eight hours north of Adelaide, close to Lake Eyre, at the junction of the Oonandatta Track and the Birdsville Track. It’s a unique outpost at the end of the bitumen before the Simpson Desert, and, before The Rover, no feature film had ever been filmed in this town with a population of only 90 people.
The Rover premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May, ahead of its Australian premiere at the Sydney Film Festival earlier this month. It is screening nationally across Australia. For more information, visit: www.therover-movie.com for details.
Image: Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson in The Rover