Guy Pearce, left and Robert Pattinson star as frenemies and twisted partners in the post-apocalypse drama 'The Rover.' (A24 / Porchlight Films)
We know the setting well in our apocalypse-obsessed culture: The dilapidated buildings, dusty streets and grizzled, worn-down denizens of a world after civilization’s collapse.
And we know the loner, as well. His name is Eric (Guy Pearce), although no one ever calls him that. He’s driven and haunted by ghosts unknown, deadly when he needs to be, an empty-souled survivor on a mission.
But what we don’t know, and what elevates “The Rover” above “Mad Max” territory, is Rey (Robert Pattinson), the emotional wreck and ball of confusion and conflict who becomes Eric’s hostage/frenemy/twisted partner.
It’s Pattinson’s reading of Rey that brings this movie to life. It starts out as a jumble of tics and awkward stammers but coalesces into a touching study of backward logic and primal desperation. Pattinson takes big risks with this part, and they pay off.
We first meet Eric as he’s having a drink at some filthy, empty bar. Outside a car zooms up. Doors open and its occupants steal Eric’s car. Eric sets out in pursuit.
The car thieves are men who’ve just committed some sort of violent crime. One of them (Scoot McNairy) has apparently abandoned his injured brother, Rey, at the scene.
Eric doesn’t care, he just wants his car back. He confronts the men, they leave him for dead, he continues to pursue them. Along the way he picks up Rey, planning to use him as bait and to help track the men.
Writer-director David Michod (“Animal Kingdom”) likes his violence, but what he’s really offering here is an odd bond between two severely damaged men who have little in common beyond the damage. The film has its affectations — a domino-playing dwarf gun dealer? — but its central tension is mesmerizing.
Rated R for language and some bloody violence
Running time: 102 minutes