Michôd burst on the scene in 2010 after “Animal Kingdom” became, arguably, Sundance’s greatest foreign success of the past decade. Not only did it launch Michôd’s career, but it earned star Jacki Weaver her first Academy Award nomination and long-deserved recognition outside of Australia. And directing an actor to an Oscar nomination in your first film is sort of big deal. Instead of being swooped up by a major studio project, however, Michôd reunited with his “Kingdom” colleagues and friends for “The Rover,” which premiered Sunday as a midnight selection in Cannes.
Set 10 years after “the fall,” the new thriller is set in an Australian outback reeling from a global economic collapse. This isn’t “Mad Max” or an increasingly familiar post-apocalyptic setting you’ve seen in theaters or on TV. Lawlessness abounds, people are barely surviving, but there is some structure to the world. The storyline centers on the unlikely pairing of Eric (Guy Pearce) and Rey (Robert Pattinson). The former is attempting to get his car back from the latter’s brother for reasons that are not revealed until the final scene in the film. It’s a harsh, dark film with some stellar set pieces and committed turns by both leads. More importantly, there’s no sophomore slump for Michôd here.
The 41-year-old filmmaker had worked with Pearce in “Animal Kingdom” and both he and Joel Edgerton, who received a shared story-by credit, created Eric with him in mind. Pattinson, on the other hand, was a different story. Michôd had a general meeting with the actor before he “The Rover” became his follow-up and says he just immediately liked him.
“I found him really beguiling and I loved his physical energy, and he was smart and had a wonderfully open face,” Michôd recalls. “When it came time to start testing for the character, I knew I wanted to see him, but yeah, I didn’t know what he was capable of. I think he knew that people didn’t know what he was capable of as well and so he was very willing to work and work hard. But very quickly when he came in to test for me I could just see this skill set that he just hasn’t been able to showcase.”
Those instincts paid off. Pattinson’s work is clearly the best of his career as he makes sure the slightly “off” Rey isn’t just Pattinson playing the big screen “Robert Pattinson.” Many audiences, however, will be surprised to find the Brit is playing an American in this setting. Obvious box office benefits to having American characters aside, Michôd says it was more important that “The Rover” felt vaguely international.
“I felt like [a few Americans] would assist in creating this world that suggested a kind of global economic meltdown, if suddenly people were just moving everywhere or doing what people had done for centuries,” Michôd says. “If you think about the Australian gold and American gold rushes of the 19th Century, there were people from all over the world, people from China and Europe, every corner coming to strange corners of the planet to try and eke out a living pretty desperately.”
Pearce probably won’t get the credit he deserves for his work in the film, but it’s another four-star performance to add to a resume that already includes excellent turns in “L.A. Confidential,” “Memento,” “The Proposition,” “The King’s Speech,” “Prometheus” and the aforementioned “Animal Kingdom.” Pearce’s focus is most remarkable once you realize he has flies camping out all over his face in scene after scene and never blinks.
“He was quite happy to have them crawling all over his face,” Michôd jokes. “The only time he’ll react is when they’re actually crawling on his eyeball. He’s had them going up his nose.”
Michôd will spend the next month or so on a publicity tour for “The Rover” Down Under and across the US.