They should've killed him when they had the chance. 'Twas ever thus in revenge thrillers. The "hero" is wronged, injured, left for dead. Only he isn't. And since he's Guy Pearce (Memento), we reckon there'll be heck to pay.
The Rover is set in post-apocalyptic Australia, somewhere between the end of Mad Max and the beginning of The Road Warrior, judging from the looks of it. Not that it ties directly to the Mel Gibson/George Miller saga. Something about the arid wastelands of Australia's interior suggest the End Times.
An unnamed, sun-spotted, disheveled man pulls up to what amounts to a roadhouse. Pearce doesn't pretty up to play this guy — thinning hair, graying beard. 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 a 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 takes the young guy hostage, hoping he'll lead him back to the three men — back to his car.
David Michod (Animal Kingdom) 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.
There are soldiers, barely making an effort to maintain law and order, guarding trainloads of coal that seem 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. Everyone is 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 Pearce's irredeemable, silent hero. 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.
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 (Tom Hardy did), but The Rover is very much in that spirit. Pearce is the epitome of the man who has lost everything, including, perhaps, his name.