*** (out of four)
Yes, “The Rover” is another post-apocalyptic movie, but a better one: It’s stark, dirty and anxious. It’s purposefully joyless, set in a society that’s disposed of its contract among its people. Sure, it may look like “The Road” in Australia, but “The Rover” is a tense piece of narrative restraint that makes its bullets and death as scary as they should be.
“You should never stop thinking about a life you’ve taken,” Eric (Guy Pearce) tells Rey (Robert Pattinson). “That’s the price you pay for taking it.” In shorts that don’t exactly correspond to his steely resolve, Eric has picked up Rey, a man with developmental disabilities who has just been shot, and forced him to lead Eric to his brother (Scoot McNairy), who has stolen Eric’s car. It’s a simple mission with a larger motivation hidden inside, and writer/director David Michod (“Animal Kingdom”) shows how urgency can be created through patience. Eric encounters an extremely lazy food mart owner (“I’ve got tins of things and drinks and stuff”) and shows a gun seller why it’s foolish to talk trash while letting your customer sample the merchandise.
At the same time, “Rover” sorta-also is just another movie about the end of the world-ish, set “10 years after the collapse” with no additional detail. In a good, challenging role, Pattinson handles the character’s feelings but overdoes it with constant face scrunchiness. Pearce (“The Proposition”) makes a great man of few words, as Eric asks questions but rarely answers them. He isn’t an only-in-the-movies strong, silent type. He’s mourning the end of what it means to be a person, with humans acting like animals and household animals no longer safe around people. When the law vanishes, will we still answer to ourselves?
Good thing the writing and filmmaking are often so tart—an early shot of a flipped car sliding past the window of a bar sets the tone for unexpected and useful dark comedy—or “Rover” might have been pretty depressing, even for the apocalypse.
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