David Michod’s The Rover revels in a kind of chic impenetrability, taking place in a barren and humorless Australia set “10 years after the collapse.” Guy Pearce stars as Eric, a flinty, soot-covered highwayman whose car is taken after an unexplained collision-cum-firefight with a couple of bandits led by an American-accented redneck, Henry (Scoot McNairy), who leaves his bumbling brother, Rey (Robert Pattinson), for dead. Eric inherits a small SUV from the altercation, but his quest for the original vehicle leads him to track down Rey, and the bedraggled meet-up that follows reveals more about Michod’s ability to play with time, space, and mood than the specifics of the world he’s created. The moments when the film rears up on its hind legs—usually conflagrations where Eric and Rey realize the quickest way to get what they want is by murdering someone—reveal Michod as a top-rate action director, but the film is less a shoot-’em-up than it is about the looming threat, and lifelong consequences, of violence for both victim and aggressor.
A question naturally emerges about what precisely happened to get humanity to this nihilistic point, and expecting the film to explain itself geopolitically can be maddening. All that the taciturn screenplay, co-written by Joel Edgerton (star of Michod’s previous film, Animal Kingdom), coughs up are fragments and allusions to a much bigger story: ubiquitous flurries of spoken Chinese heard through loudspeakers; an ongoing military clampdown that brings to mind the Iraq War, but at a 10th of the scale; and an implied total devaluation of the Australian dollar. Everyone in Michod’s dusty frontier wilderness is looking out for themselves, scared to say anything beyond the bare minimum. When Eric asks the madam of a boarding house if she’s seen a car, she responds by asking him what his name is, and they volley “Have you seen my car?” and “What is your name?” back and forth until he pulls out a handgun and points it at her forehead, at which point she tells him she has seen the car in question, but it was “doing what cars usually do: it came in one direction and left in another.” The worst that can be said about The Rover is that it has the feel of bad dystopian literature, as its text is so terse and blunted-off in explaining itself that it appears an exercise for a long while in opaque pseudo-symbolism.
Pearce was born for this stuff, but Pattinson—grunting slack-jawed to the point of needing subtitles, another layer of obfuscation Michod casts over the film—is sublime. The startling chasm between his characters in The Rover and Cosmopolis suggests a range that’ll be properly acknowledged only when Pattinson is older, less appreciated as a heartthrob than for his skill as a seasoned vet. Rey is pathetic and whimpering at first glimpse, but later emerges closer to a hero than Eric, who kills so many people to find his car that the inciting McGuffin barely holds. Eric convinces Rey to lead him to Henry and his accomplices, but the reunion-confrontation between the two brothers gives the film its only real sense of sorrow, a climax verifying for the first real time how Michod’s wasteland leaves its derelict inhabitants with nothing but terrible options. As a political allegory, The Rover is neither here nor there; that said, Rey’s stare is almost thousand-yard enough to make the film’s sense of tragedy feel downright Greek.
Cast: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy Director: David Michod Screenwriter: David Michod, Joel Edgerton Distributor: A24 Running Time: 106 min Rating: R Year: 2014 Buy: Video
Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Original Screenplay
This season, Hollywood is invested in celebrating the films they love while dodging the cultural bullets coming at them from every angle.
You know, if it weren’t for the show’s producers effectively and repeatedly saying everything about the Academy Awards is terrible and needs to be changed, and the year’s top-tier contenders inadvertently confirming their claims, this would’ve been a comparatively fun and suspenseful Oscar season. None of us who follow the Academy Awards expect great films to win; we just hope the marathon of precursors don’t turn into a Groundhog Day-style rinse and repeat for the same film, ad nauseam.
On that score, mission accomplished. The guilds have been handing their awards out this season as though they met beforehand and assigned each voting body a different title from Oscar’s best picture list so as not to tip the Oscar race too clearly toward any one film. SAG? Black Panther. PGA? Green Book. DGA? Roma. ASC? Cold War. ACE? Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Even awards-season kryptonite A Star Is Born got an award for contemporary makeup from the MUAHS. (That’s the Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild, not the sound Lady Gaga fans have been making ever since A Star Is Born’s teaser trailer dropped last year.)
Not to be outdone, the Writers Guild of America announced their winners last weekend, and not only did presumed adapted screenplay frontrunner BlacKkKlansman wind up stymied by Can You Ever Forgive Me?, but the original screenplay prize went to Eighth Grade, which wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar. Bo Burnham twisted the knife into AMPAS during his acceptance speech: “To the other nominees in the category, have fun at the Oscars, losers!” In both his sarcasm and his surprise, it’s safe to say he speaks on behalf of us all.
As is always the case, WGA’s narrow eligibility rules kept a presumed favorite, The Favourite, out of this crucial trial heat. But as the balloting period comes to a close, the question remains just how much enthusiasm or affection voters have for either of the two films with the most nominations (Roma being the other). As a recent “can’t we all just get along” appeal by Time’s Stephanie Zacharek illustrates, the thing Hollywood is most invested in this season involves bending over backward, Matrix-style, to celebrate the films they love and still dodge the cultural bullets coming at them from every angle.
Maybe it’s just tunnel vision from the cultural vacuum Oscar voters all-too-understandably would prefer to live in this year, but doesn’t it seem like The Favourite’s tastefully ribald peppering of posh-accented C-words would be no match for the steady litany of neo-Archie Bunkerisms spewing from Viggo Mortensen’s crooked mouth? Especially with First Reformed’s Paul Schrader siphoning votes from among the academy’s presumably more vanguard new recruits? We’ll fold our words in half and eat them whole if we’re wrong, but Oscar’s old guard, unlike John Wayne, is still alive and, well, pissed.
Will Win: Green Book
Could Win: The Favourite
Should Win: First Reformed
Watch: Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir, Starring Honor Swinton Byrne and Tilda Swinton, Gets First Trailer
Joanna Hogg has been flying under the radar for some time, but that’s poised to change in a big way.
British film director and screenwriter Joanna Hogg, whose impeccably crafted 2013 film Exhibition we praised on these pages for its “disarming mixture of the remarkable and the banal,” has been flying under the radar for the better part of her career. But that’s poised to change in a big way with the release of her latest film, The Souvenir, which won the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Prior to the film’s world premiere at the festival, A24 and Curzon Artificial Eye acquired its U.S. and U.K. distribution rights, respectively. Below is the official description of the film:
A shy but ambitious film student (Honor Swinton Byrne) begins to find her voice as an artist while navigating a turbulent courtship with a charismatic but untrustworthy man (Tom Burke). She defies her protective mother (Tilda Swinton) and concerned friends as she slips deeper and deeper into an intense, emotionally fraught relationship that comes dangerously close to destroying her dreams.
And below is the film’s first trailer:
A24 will release The Souvenir on May 17.
Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Sound Mixing
For appealing to voters’ nostalgia for drunken karaoke nights of yore, one film has the upper hand here.
Given what Eric wrote about the sound editing category yesterday, it now behooves me to not beat around the bush here. Also, it’s my birthday, and there are better things for me to do today than count all the ways that Eric and I talk ourselves out of correct guesses in the two sound categories, as well as step on each other’s toes throughout the entirety of our Oscar-prediction cycle. In short, it’s very noisy. Which is how Oscar likes it when it comes to sound, though maybe not as much the case with sound mixing, where the spoils quite often go to best picture nominees that also happen to be musicals (Les Misérables) or musical-adjacent (Whiplash). Only two films fit that bill this year, and since 2019 is already making a concerted effort to top 2018 as the worst year ever, there’s no reason to believe that the scarcely fat-bottomed mixing of Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody will take this in a walk, for appealing to voters’ nostalgia for drunken karaoke nights of yore.
Will Win: Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody
Could Win: A Star Is Born
Should Win: First Man