There are plenty of unanswered questions in The Rover, an increasingly bizarre Australian drama that takes place, as the opening legend states, “10 years after the collapse,” in which stunned characters are still emotionally coping from a global economic meltdown. Our enigmatic lead, Eric (Guy Pearce), is shown from the get-go ambling about the empty roads of the Outback in a sweaty, foggy state of mind, but he snaps into action when a trio of crooks led by Henry (Scoot McNairy) crash their truck near a clapboard dwelling where Eric is marking time, then steal his car to make their getaway. Eric is determined to get his car back, even if it means spiriting after the dangerous gun-toting goons.
Australian filmmaker David Michod — who got everyone’s attention with his 2010 debut Animal Kingdom, the nasty mob family flick that earned actress Jacki Weaver a surprise Oscar nomination — parcels out the need-to-know info in small portions. It turns out the bad guys have just engineered a bank robbery gone bad and bloody, with Henry’s younger brother Ray (Twilight alum Robert Pattinson) gut-shot and left for dead. Eric picks up Henry to help track down the thieves, as The Rover morphs into an offbeat road movie where the characters are secondary to the journey itself. When Eric interacts with former members of a traveling circus, viewers will have officially entered this movie’s weird zone.
Michod’s style has been labeled minimalist, but there’s a lot going on visually, with director of photography Natasha Braier and production designer Josephine Ford conjuring a bleak universe of dusty hovels and barren roadside attractions. His violent film is not a kissing cousin to Mad Max (although the body count rises to 16), but it does have more in common with atmospheric entries in the Outback oeuvre such as Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout and Fred Schepisi’s A Cry in the Dark. Guy Pearce’s ferocious performance always takes center stage, but he never allows his character to become a cipher, either. And Robert Pattinson displays impressive acting chops for his Down Under halfwit; with his bank account flush with Twilight paydays, now is the time for the young star to stretch with this surprising career move.