“The Rover” is set in post-apocalyptic Australia, somewhere between the end of “Mad Max” and the beginning of “The Road Warrior,” judging from the looks of it.
Not that it ties directly to the Mel Gibson/George Miller saga. Something about the arid wastelands of Australia's interior suggest End Times.
An unnamed, sun-spotted, disheveled man pulls up to what amounts to a roadhouse. Guy Pearce doesn't pretty up to play this guy — hair thinning, beard graying. He hasn't even finished his drink when a trio of robbers (Scoot McNairy, David Field and Tawanda Manyimo), one of them bleeding, have run their SUV into a ditch. They steal the Man with No Name's car.
He rescues their SUV and chases them — a cat-and-mouse run through the wilderness. They're armed, he's not. But he's kind of crazy.
That's when they have their chance. They don't kill him. And that's when the pursuit turns maniacal, dogged and something almost epic.
Robert Pattinson plays a Southern-fried member of their gang left for dead at the heist. He's bloodied and “Deliverance” simple but coherent enough to recognize the getaway car that our hero is chasing the bad men in. Pearce takes the young guy hostage, hoping he'll lead him back to the three — back to his car.
David Michod (“Animal Kingdom”) co-wrote and directed this thriller, neatly depicting a world in partial decay. Roadside motels cling to life, convenience stores are armored and their owners armed.
There are soldiers, barely making an effort to maintain law and order, guarding train loads of coal which seem to keep the power on, in some places. Everyone is out for himself, and a person hoping for a glint of humanity in this future will be hard pressed to find much of it.
At the center of this is the irredeemable, silent hero, played by Pearce. Everybody asks him questions. What's his name, why does he have to get this car back? He never answers, not in the first two acts of “The Rover.” He answers every question with a question, until finally the fidgety simpleton Rey (Pattinson, in a very mannered performance) wears him down.
The film grinds to a halt in between confrontations. And those shoot-outs are simple, direct and bloody, not “staged” in the Hollywood sense.
But it's a film that greatly benefits from an unfussy, nihilistic turn by Pearce, one so devoid of vanity that you kind of wish he'd landed the lead in next year's “Mad Max” revival. He didn't, but “The Rover” is very much in that spirit. Pearce is the epitome of the Man Who Has Lost Everything, including, perhaps, his name.