The film is set in Australia ten years after “The Collapse,” which is never fully explained, but it’s understood to be a worldwide economic collapse. Times are tough with essentials like water being tough to come by. A man named Eric (Guy Pearce) enters a bar only to have his car stolen by a trio of fleeing thieves led by Henry (Scoot McNairy). Eric takes the thieves’ abandoned vehicle and pursues them, relentlessly. Eventually, he comes across the fourth thief who got left behind, Henry’s brother Rey (Robert Pattinson). Eric helps him out and in return wants Rey’s help in tracking down his brother and, ultimately, the car.
The biggest question that lingers over The Rover, and the element that kept nagging at me while I watched it, is, “What is The Collapse?” The audience is never really clear on how bad off everything is, because the film is set out in the backwaters of Australia. Slowly and deliberately, the backstory is pieced together, but never to completion. There are elements of law, but we’re never clear what their authority is. The world hasn’t descended to Road Warrior levels yet, but it’s working on it. Eric seems to be one of the only ones who realize that the world has changed irrevocably and it’s only a matter of time before Death follows. It’s a real cheery piece. So, while having a mysterious cataclysmic event rock the world is fine, it doesn’t work completely when that mystery keeps getting teased and never revealed. That being said, I loved the desolate setting of the film. I felt like this could have been a far-flung prequel to Mad Max. Also, there’s a lot of sudden and graphic violence in this one, which is understandable considering it’s all a wild frontier out there.
Guy Pearce is great in the lead role. He’s stoic and all business throughout the film. All he wants is his car back—his only possession in a world that has left so many with nothing. Some of his past is revealed throughout the film and it’s a rough story. Pearce is just scary good and it’s a shame he’s never capitalized here in America on how great he is. He always pops up here and there, but he should be so much bigger than he is. The real surprise for me was Robert Pattinson as Rey. Rey isn’t Of Mice and Men’s Lennie levels of simple, but it’s clear that he’s not the brightest bulb in the pack and Pattinson plays the part so well. Because of his association with the critically-lambasted Twilight films, there is a belief out there that Pattinson is a bad actor when in reality, the Twilight films are just bad movies. He’s actually quite good and really shines here. Scoot McNairy, who has been making a name for himself in several films over the past few years and now on television in AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire, is good as always in his brief time on screen. However, it’s the interaction between Pearce and Pattinson that drives the film and their chemistry is good.
Overall, The Rover is slow-paced and won’t be for everyone, but it’s a very tense thriller with great performances from its cast and a bleak, desolate setting. Check it out if it’s in your area.