David Michôd’s “The Rover” is the latest, and one of the best, in a slew of films created by an Australian collective known as Blue-Tongue Films.
A founding member of Blue Tongue, Michôd made the great “Animal Kingdom,” a complex and densely layered gangster film with an extraordinary Oscar-nominated performance by Jacki Weaver.
“The Rover” is almost its exact opposite, a movie so spare that it occasionally calls to mind “Mad Max” or “The Road Warrior.”
The movie is set in a dystopian future after a global economic meltdown, where Australia has become a catch-all for loners, losers and criminals of all types. A quartet of multi-cultured robbers, including a pair of American brothers from the South, botches a job, and the simple-minded, gut-shot Rey (Robert Pattinson) is left behind.
While getting away, the robbers make the mistake of stealing a car belonging to Eric (Guy Pearce), who immediately launches into a grim, relentless cross-country chase to get it back. He even goes so far as to save Rey, forcing him to join the quest.
If it doesn’t make sense why Rey would stick around, the movie smooths out such rough edges with its mesmerizing, disturbing presentation.
The pair make creepy stops along the way, discovering a kindly lady that offers the company of young boys, or a store that sells “tins of stuff and drinks and things.”
Communication and dialogue is so infrequent that whenever anyone does speak, it sounds profound or even poetic. When Rey tells a story about a neighbor who owned eight tractors, Eric asks, “Why are you telling me this?” Rey replies, “not everything has to be about something.”
Michôd gives precious few clues as to what happened to the world, though American money is preferred over Australian, and the world feels abandoned. One of the movie’s few missteps, the futuristic setting sometimes raises random questions that distract viewers’ attention.
But a truly unsettling music score by Antony Partos, the baking heat and relentless dust, and even Pearce’s weird, diseased-looking haircut, add plentiful layers to the uncertainty and tension.
The movie is based on a story by Michôd and Joel Edgerton (perhaps better known as an actor in “Star Wars” and “The Great Gatsby”), who also wrote the screenplay to another Blue-Tongue Film, 2008’s crackerjack “The Square.”
Best of all, “The Rover” seems rooted in something personal and burning, rather than an attempt to pay homage to great crime films of the past. “The Rover” is a terrific crime film for right now.</p>
The Rover ★★★½
Starring Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy
Written and directed by David Michôd
Running time 1 hour, 42 minutes