Since his first feature Animal Kingdom was met with such critical acclaim five years ago, the Australian writer-director David Michôd’s follow up film has been hotly anticipated. He has kept mostly the same team around him and has again cast the experienced Guy Pearce in a central role, but will this equal another great picture? Titled ‘The Rover’, this western is set a decade into the aftermath of a global crisis in a post-apocalyptic outback. Pearce stars as Eric, a man of few words, filled with rage over the losses he has suffered. When his car is stolen by a gang of small-time crooks, he sets out to retrieve it and will stop at nothing until he gets back what is his. In his mission, he encounters an American simpleton called Rey (Robert Pattinson), who happens to be the younger brother of one of the criminals Eric is chasing. Together they pursue in this slow-burn thriller which is so full of style, it leaves little room for substance.
The atmosphere of the location is captured effectively in the opening moments, the Australian outback appearing even more lonely that you’d expect. The warm and dirty desolation of the environment is exhibited through a series of long landscape shots stitched into the story with slow dissolve transitions to the flawed, selfish characters that inhabit it. The promising start disappointingly isn’t capitalised on as the clever techniques implemented are simply repeated. With very little going on plot-wise, every moody sequence with Eric staring angrily into the sun seemed to last an eternity, feeling like a very good short film premise stretched out to an unnecessary length. The shades of violence are dealt with brilliantly in fairness, the Michôd’s flair in the gangster genre serving him well, but where this differs to his last piece is that the men here are so underdeveloped that I didn’t care whether their brains were to be sprayed all over the wall or not.
In a film with only a small amount of characters, speaking a small amount of dialogue has a big reliance on the acting to offer it some weight. Guy Pearce is used to the pressure of a leading role and possesses the skill to play fearsome parts, having excelled as the villain in prohibition western Lawless. Eric though is far less exaggerated and is an ordinary man who due to his personal grief and suffering has changed, and we quickly ascertain the heinous behaviour he is capable of. The performance is solid if a little underwhelming, limited by the minimalist nature of the concept and scripting. I did however enjoy how his arc ended as it finally answered the questions surrounding the motives of his actions. I was impressed by the turn from Robert Pattinson, shedding his cool guy image to play a different type – the naivety and nervousness of Rey forces us to sympathise with him, and also makes him an unpredictable force who acts first and pays for it later. I was pleased to see Scoot McNairy appear as I have, in the past, be an admirer of his work but he is sadly terribly underused.
I am by no means against minimalist filmmaking but I found ‘The Rover’ to be rather empty, and came away unsatisfied given the reputation of the cast and crew. Michôd has endeavoured to create what appears to be a very personal film which I believe, unlike his first, will struggle to appeal to the mainstream cinema audiences. It is successful visually with its menacing cinematography and in its high points, it is intense, powerful and incredibly suspenseful. Unfortunately, these moments are too sparsely spread and the pacing of the film results in several boring slogs of simply waiting for something to happen.
Written and directed by Drake Doremus, ‘Breathe In’ muses over female lead Sophie (Felicity Jones), a British foreign exchange student with a passion for music, who moves in with a family in suburban New York. To the non-inquisitive eye, head of this family Keith (Guy Pearce) is living an idyllic existence with his loving wife and daughter, teaching piano as a day job whilst enjoying his cellist duties for a local orchestra. It soon appears that Keith is in mourning of his lost youth, having been forced to settle down too soon for the sake of his child. He stashes old band photographs in his desk and yearns for a chance to break free from his humdrum routine. So when Sophie, an attractive young musician enters the fray, he is inspired to pursue his previously disregarded ambitions.
This is artistically shot, a dulled watercolour palette washing over us to create a shadowed setting, shrouded by missed opportunities, which seems separated from the real world. The orchestral soundtrack compliments the visuals, and is apt yet predictable given the subject matter and the vocations of our leads. The longing stare is used a little too frequently as a suspense builder as Keith and Sophie grow closer, and having adoringly studied Jones previously in Like Crazy, it poses the question if director Doremus himself wants to be the romantic male lead alongside the pale skinned beauty. In one scene, the two sit side-by-side playing the piano, and the direction felt all too obvious, and remarkably similar to a moment in Park Chan-Wook’s psychological take on the dysfunctional, Stoker, but unfortunately carried off with less conviction.
Guy Pearce certainly looks the part as the middle-aged family man, wishing he was twenty years younger again, and he and Jones do what they can with a rather stilted script. An on-screen chemistry slowly presents itself but the surrounding plot lacks originality, fizzling out after the preliminary ‘will they, won’t they?’ opening third. Amy Ryan puts in a fine turn as Keith’s wife, Megan, satisfied with the quiet uninteresting lifestyle, collecting cookie jars and attending grown-up dinner parties, or gatherings. Mackenzie Davis fits in well as the OC-esque spoilt teenager, drinking too much and falling for the wrong boys. Her shallowness is a nice contrast with Sophie’s deeper, mysterious personality but Felicity Jones really only has to look good on camera for the most part and with Drake Doremus pulling the strings, she can do no wrong.
‘Breathe In’ feels very personal, and is gift-wrapped in pretty aesthetics. Well acted and dressed up in striking cinematography, it challenges the idealistic family set-up, presenting the conflict and fine lines between a middle aged man’s fantasy and reality, whilst also commenting on the importance of age gaps in relationships. It touches upon these topics and shows ambition, much like the central character, but resumes normality when the initial excitement runs out too soon.