The Rover, David Michôd’s follow-up to Animal Kingdom, debuts at Cannes
“It’s getting howly out there,” says the Australian director David Michôd, peering out at a torrential downpour that’s pounding the southern coast of France.
The stormy backdrop is fittingly portentous for Michôd as he discusses his much-anticipated follow-up to his Oscar-nominated debut Animal Kingdom.
He calls The Rover, which debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in May, “a portrait of a menacing and damaged near-future”.
It takes place 10 years after a vaguely defined collapse that has left Australia’s currency worthless. The Outback is a fearful, murderous wasteland of gun-toting bandits and wanton depravity. Guy Pearce plays a wanderer pursuing his one possession – his car – after a band of thieves steal it, leaving behind one of their members, a halfwit played by Robert Pattinson.
“I realised when I was writing it that I was projecting onto Guy’s character a lot of the anger and despair I felt about the state of the world, the fact that bankers could destroy economies and then get away with it,” says Michôd. “Simultaneously, we’re presented with the great moral challenge of our time, which is dealing with climate change, and yet no one seems to want to do anything about it.
“You throw your hands up in the air and go: ‘We’re destroying ourselves and we don’t care.’ ”
It took Michôd four years to find his footing after the runaway success of 2010’s Animal Kingdom, a deliciously dark crime-family saga that won critical acclaim, a record number of Australian Film Institute awards and the Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for co-star Jacki Weaver. The film announced Michôd’s arrival, with some calling him the Scorsese from Down Under. Afterwards, he spent years reading scripts and fielding entreaties from Hollywood.
“That couple of years after was strange because my life changed. I felt like suddenly an entire world of possibilities had opened to me and I wanted to explore them,” says Michôd. “I wasn’t roaming the Earth depressed, but there was a level of anxiety … because I did after a while start to go: ‘I don’t know what my second movie is.’ ”
He ultimately realised he wanted to make a film “from the ground up”. The Rover was an idea Michôd and his friend Joel Edgerton (The Great Gatsby, Warrior) first conceived of years earlier: a lean, minimalistic thriller with exposition meted out in the most judicious of drips. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is a clear touchstone.
Michôd, 41, wrote the lead role specifically for Pearce, the lone established star in Animal Kingdom.
“I sort of keep forgetting I was in it,” Pearce says of Animal Kingdom. “I was only on set for a week and a half and those guys, they lived it. It’s a hard one to feel connected on the same sort of level when it’s changing everyone’s lives.”
The director’s rising star also attracted Pattinson, the Twilight actor who has played still, cool characters that trade on his severe looks. In The Rover, he’s received the best reviews of his career for playing a fidgeting, bloodied misfit with a stuttering Southern accent.
The Rover may seem similar to other visions of bleak futures, but Michôd says the film isn’t about its genre.
“As soon as you present a dystopian vision that is the result of some kind of apocalypse, it’s like it gives the movie licence to become popcorn,” says Michôd. “I wanted this thing to feel like it was just a natural extension of the forces that are bubbling around us today.”
• The Rover is out in cinemas today
Updated: September 10, 2014 04:00 AM