David Prendeville takes another look at “this impressively bleak apocalyptic road movie”.
The premise of this impressively bleak apocalyptic road movie is simple. Ten years after a worldwide economic crash a violent, damaged loner Eric (Pearce) follow a group of criminals after they steal his car, in the hope of retrieving it. This task becomes more realistic when he bumps into one of their accomplices, and brother to one of the criminals, Rey (Pattinson) who they left behind after a robbery, wounded and assuming he was dead. Rey knows where his brother and the gang are headed and he and Eric strike up an unlikely alliance. On this simple premise Michód (Animal Kingdom) ambitiously attempts to tackle themes such as good and evil, human responsibility, loyalty and masculinity.
Initially there are echoes of pictures such as Mad Max in the deliriously exciting opening car chase and the sudden, brutal jolts of violence, and The Road in its relentlessly bleak outlook. However, from the arrival of Rey onwards, the film attempts to juxtapose into this dark universe something of the buddy movie, albeit, in a much less frivolous manner than in pictures such as Midnight Run and 48 Hours. It is through the interactions between Eric and Rey that a humanity and a certain amount of emotion emerge from this often relentlessly grim portrait of the human race. This is conveyed through conversations between the two characters which allow Michód to verbalise some of the philosophical ideas of the picture and hint at his character’s motivations. These interactions hinge on two brilliant lead performances by Pearce and Pattinson. Pearce manages to be both terrifying and also empathetic. He carries a great air of unpredictable malevolence yet also retains a vulnerability. The real star of the show here, however, is Pattinson. In between a double-whammy of Cronenberg- 2012’s Cosmopolis and the forth-coming Maps to the Stars – Pattinson continues to make astute post-Twilight career choices and anyone who has any doubts about his acting ability need only look at his stunning work here. His Rey is the closest thing to a good character in the film. Not the smartest- but oddly innocent and loyal- he is the real heart of the film. Pattinson is nuanced, engaging and utterly believable.
Not everything about the film is as successful as the performances. While Michód exhibits a sure hand visually – helped by Natasha Braeir’s sumptuous cinematography – he is sometimes uncertain as to how to pace his sophomore effort. The film is at its best when taut and spare but on more than one occasion the film stutters and drags its way through scenes. Michód is unable to make something truly poetic of his arid setting and seems more at home when directing action or when bluntly depicting the grubbier aspects of human nature. At this point he seems a director not short on ambition or ideas but perhaps not entirely sure of what his signature formal style is as of yet. The film, for all that’s impressive about it, sometimes feels like a very serviceable mish-mash of older films and genres.
These reservations mean that the film doesn’t quite live up to its considerable potential. It remains, however, a hard-hitting, provocative and brave slice of genre film-making.
Well worth a look.