THE ROVER (NC16)
103 minutes/Opens tomorrow/ 3.5/5
The story: A decade after the global economic collapse, the Australian outback's mineral wealth has made it a magnet for migrants. A botched robbery results in the theft of a car belonging to a drifter, Eric (Guy Pearce). He takes hostage a robber, Rey (Robert Pattinson), left behind by the others because of his wounds. Together, they battle their way across the desert.
What is it about the Australian bush that draws film-makers and their tales of blasted dystopias and twisted realities?
Add this movie to the list that includes the first Mad Max (1979) and The Proposition (2005, also starring Pearce), both about desperate men locked in elemental struggles, trying to survive one another and the parched, sun-baked land.
This is writer-director David Michod's second feature, the eagerly awaited follow-up to Animal Kingdom (2010), his celebrated debut work about a Melbourne crime family.
Kudos to him for going in a new direction here. Where Kingdom was an ensemble piece about matriarchy and how the worst things can happen in the name of family, this film, in contrast, is about one man, Eric, and the relentless and inexplicable swathe of destruction he cuts across the outback to get his car back from robbers.
Michod retains his fascination with hard men doing violence, partly because they enjoy it and also because it gives them a sense of who they are.
The character of the near-wordless, squinty- eyed drifter Eric recalls Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name in any number of Sergio Leone's spaghetti Westerns.
Rey (Pattinson, sporting trailer-park tattoos and an Appalachian accent so mush-mouthed, subtitles are necessary) is his idiot sidekick, but is a character played more for tragedy than for laughs.
Both, however, give great performances, a necessary thing in a film that stops frequently to luxuriate in stillness, to let the atmospherics (driven by a raspy, howling score) take over.
The word "nihilism" is used too often to describe exploitative films built on cinematic violence, but it should be more accurately applied to movies like this. Eric is about the closest thing to an existential hero you are likely to find at the movies, a man tormented by his own sinfulness, creating meaning wherever he can, no matter how trivial, or how much death he needs to mete out.