Starring: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy
Directed by: David Michod (“Animal Kingdom”)
Written by: David Michod (“Animal Kingdom”)

It’s been four years since writer/director David Michod materialized out of thin air to deliver his ambitious and expertly paced crime thriller “Animal Kingdom,” which follows a dysfunctional Melbourne family and their internal fight with loyalty when one of their own is murdered. Michod turns up the heat a few degrees, but still keeps it to a slow burn with his newest film “The Rover,” an aggressive post-apocalyptic drama set in the grimy Australian Outback that plays like a tale of revenge although our antihero’s motives are not defined until the very end.

In “The Rover,” actor Guy Pearce (“Memento”) stars as Eric, a thick-skinned loner traveling through an Australian wasteland. When his car, the only possession he seems to have besides the sweaty shirt on his back, is stolen by a trio of thieves, Eric makes it his mission to track them down and retrieve what is his. At the start of his pursuit, he meets Rey (Robert Pattinson, in what is easily the best performance of his career thus far), the simpleminded brother of one of the car thieves, who forms an unusual bond with Eric and decides he will help him find his vehicle.

Stylistically, Michod does some impressive work with the look and feel of a dried-up Australian Outback devoid of any reason for its inhabitants to live. We’re not talking about the same kind of misery in something like director John Hillcoat’s “The Road,” but Michod’s trek through the dusty countryside would probably still make any man go mad. We see that here with Eric, a hardened soul willing to do anything he can to get back what is rightfully his. Pearce’s anger is palpable, which balances effectively with Pattinson’s weak-minded nature and an almost strange need to feel accepted by Eric. In a way, it feels like the relationship between George and Lenny in author John Steinbeck’s classic novel “Of Mice and Men” from a character perspective. Both need each other in their lives for completely different reasons.

“The Rover,” however, is much more callous and bleak in its delivery. The sense of hopelessness throughout the film is suffocating and Pearce’s performance doesn’t let up for a second. As the more subdued Rey, Pattinson sheds the outer sparkle tweens flocked to in the “Twilight” series and proves he can do some fine work when a role is as rich as this. The ending might not hit as hard as Michod would like, but “The Rover” has an unapologetic mean streak that can’t be ignored.

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