by George Wolf
Make it 2 for 2 for Australia’s David Michod, and I’m not talking World Cup penalty kicks.
Four years ago, Michod served up Animal Kingdom, an utterly compelling feature-length debut as writer and director.
The Rover is his follow up, and much like its predecessor, it takes a measured approach to getting under your skin.
The setting is an Australian wasteland, ten years after a “collapse.” We assume it’s a financial one, as we see Eric (Guy Pearce) angrily tell a man selling gasoline that “it’s just paper..money doesn’t mean anything anymore!”
When three men, fleeing from some sort of bloody incident, wreck their car, they steal Eric’s, which will not do. Though he quickly gets their stalled car running again, Eric’s not interested in a straight-up trade. He wants his car back. Badly.
One of the fleeing men, Henry, has left something behind: his “dim-witted” brother Rey (Robert Pattinson). When Rey crosses paths with Eric, one brother is soon forced to hunt the other across the barren, desolate miles.
Don’t let the quick cuts in the trailer fool you, the story often feels as empty as the strikingly- filmed landscape. But Michod’s deliberate pace slowly sets in your bones, fueled by the two lead performances.
Pearce is mesmerizing, sketching the intense edges of a mysterious traveler. Where was he going in the first place, and why is he so deadly accurate with that rifle? What’s so important about his car?
Pattinson slams the door on all those “Team Edward” jokes with a breakout performance. Reaching depths of nuance he’s never before displayed, Pattinson brings heartbreak to Rey’s conflicting allegiances without ever copping out to melodrama.
Michod also peppers the trip with indelible vignettes, as smaller, unique characters float in and out of the tale to fully portray a brutal, desperate world that feels shockingly possible.
In many ways, The Rover is a throwback to classic Westerns, with a nearly anonymous figure on a bloody, single- minded mission for revenge. You may scoff at the simplicity of the finale, but I’m betting you’ll find yourself thinking about it long afterward.