Twas ever thus in revenge thrillers. The “hero” is wronged, injured, left for dead.
Only he isn’t. And since he’s Guy “Memento” Pearce, we reckon there’ll be heck to pay.
“The Rover” is set in post Apocalyptic Australia, somewhere between the end of “Mad Max” and before “The Road Warrior,” judging from 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 greying. 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 the 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.
“I want my car back.”
That’s when they have their chance. That’s when 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’s No Name takes the young guy hostage, hoping he’ll lead him back to the three — back to his car.
David “Animal Kingdom” Michod 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.
“American dollars only. Take it or leave it.”
There are soldiers, barely making an effort to maintain law and order, guarding trainloads of coal which seems to keep the power on, in some places. Mainly the Army is just protecting or avenging their own.
Every argument is short and bullet-riddled. It is everyone 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.
“You should never stop thinking about a life you’ve taken. That’s the price you pay for taking it.”
“The Rover” — the title is another long-unanswered question — is as violent and primal as “Animal Kingdom,” but not as brisk. 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, in “The Rover,” is the epitome of the Man Who Has Lost Everything, including, perhaps, his name.
MPAA Rating: R for language and some bloody violence
Cast: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy
Credits: Written and directed by David Michod, based on a story by Joel Edgerton and David Michod. An A24 release.
Running time: 1:42