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Sunday, September 14, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 57.0° F  A Few Clouds
The Paper
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In The Rover, Australia is a wasteland filled with bloodshed and mystery
Down Under dystopia
Pearce (left) and Pattinson are appealing foils.
Pearce (left) and Pattinson are appealing foils.

A guy walks into a bar. Everything else that occurs in The Rover flows from this one happenstance. The guy is Eric (Guy Pearce) and the "everything else" is his bloody and protracted chase through the Australian Outback to retrieve his car, which was stolen while he was inside the bar having a drink.

The time, we're told in an opening dateline, is "10 years after the collapse." All we can really deduce is that the collapse has made the Outback more desolate and fly-ridden, and that it must have something to do with the global economy since the currency preferred at the scraggly trading posts is American dollars.

Eric is a taciturn fellow, prone to letting his gun do the talking. Why he wants his car back so badly is something that's not revealed until the film's closing sequence. When thieves (Scoot McNairy, Tawanda Manyimo, David Field) swipe his sedan, they leave behind a perfectly running SUV that's gotten beached due to a road impediment. Eric gets the vehicle unstuck and gives chase. Though it appears that the SUV is far superior to the old sedan, he stops at nothing to retrieve his car. While gun shopping at a bizarro-land outpost, he discovers Rey (Robert Pattinson), a brother of one of the car thieves. It turns out he's been left behind to die. A dim but querulous soul, he provides a stark contrast to Eric's gruff brute.

What The Rover lacks in story development it makes up for with compelling tension, mystery and acting finesse. Pearce again proves to be one of the great shape-shifters among the current galaxy of movie stars. Pattinson duly rids himself of the mindless heartthrob status the Twilight trilogy brought him, fully demonstrating his acting chops. Cinematography by Natasha Braier brilliantly captures a crushing sense of the landscape's vast, post-apocalyptic emptiness. Director David Michôd, who co-wrote the screenplay with Joel Edgerton, builds on the twisted family relationships of his previous film, Animal Kingdom. Though it has fewer narrative underpinnings, The Rover is reminiscent of cult road pictures like Two-Lane Blacktop and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. It doesn't add much to this tradition, but it plays like a taut spellbinder nonetheless.

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