Reel Experiences with Robert Humanick: Beauty and horror co-exist in violent modern western ‘The Rover'

“The Rover” is so bleak an experience that many viewers will understandably be forced to turn away. An opening title card informs us that the events depicted begin 10 years after a global economic collapse, and the Australian setting brings to mind the similarly desolate landscapes of the “Mad Max” films. If anything, “The Rover” is more harrowing. Only faint shadows of society remain in this hell on earth.

Guy Pearce plays Eric, a veteran who has lost his family and way of life and, at the outset of the film, loses his car, when it’s hijacked by a gang of thieves fleeing a crime. Robert Pattinson is Reynolds, brother to one of the thieves, left for dead, soon a hostage and unlikely partner of Eric, who is determined to retrieve his car at all costs. As far as modern westerns go, “The Rover” might be described as an anti-“High Noon.” Instead of standing his ground, our ostensible hero seeks out his nemesis, while the clear character motivations in that Gary Cooper classic are replaced with ambiguity.

Among writer-director David Michôd’s intentions with this film, ensuring that the audience likes his characters is not among them. Our protagonists are both seen committing horrific, sometimes unnecessary acts of violence, and while they might be morally superior compared to their rivals, it remains a bitter pill to swallow. What “The Rover” offers, then, is a vision of life at the breaking point, and how love and hate can compel one to incredible, if unspeakable behavior. Pearce plays this near-psychopath with moving conviction, and Pattinson continues to prove the range of his skills as the meek, naïve sidekick. The stunning widescreen compositions and Natasha Braier’s rustic cinematography add immeasurable beauty to this burned-out tone poem. Love it or hate it, “The Rover” is a film with teeth.

“The Rover” is available OnDemand on Tuesday, Sept. 9, and on DVD/Blu-ray on Tuesday, Sept. 23.

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Robert Humanick is a contributing writer for slantmagazine.com

Follow Rob on Twitter @rhumanick