The guys involved with Australia’s Blue-Tongue Films make gritty little crime thrillers with twist endings that have earned them a global reputation. Their best works — “The Square” and especially the Oscar-nominated “Animal Kingdom” — take hard-boiled American conceits and breathe new life into them by giving them an Aussie twist.
They stumble though with “The Rover,” a beautifully shot post-apocalyptic fever dream that might have worked as a short but is inconsequential as a feature film. The ending, which is supposed to be clever, really is just a letdown.
It’s a decade after a calamitous economic collapse and Eric (an especially rangy and disheveled Guy Pearce) is alone in the Outback with just his car, his thoughts, and a weird karaoke bar that is somehow still open. His peace is disturbed by three outlaws — including an American, Henry (Scoot McNairy) — who have crashed their truck and need some new wheels.
But they get more than they bargained for after stealing Eric’s seemingly anonymous sedan. He vows to haunt them across the scorched Australian wilderness like an angry spirit until he gets it back.
DIRECTED BY: David Michod
STARRING: Robert Pattinson, Guy Pearce and Scoot McNairy
RATED: R GRADE: D
RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes
Director David Michod (“Animal Kingdom”), working from a script he co-wrote with Joel Edgerton (“Animal Kingdom,” “The Square”), is adept at building tension. He is helped by Natasha Braier’s exquisite cinematography, Antony Partos’ distinctive score, and a hard-working cast including a nearly unrecognizable Robert Pattinson as Rey, Henry’s dim-witted brother.
Eric befriends Rey because he thinks he can lead him to his car. Rey believes Henry has abandoned him and so he and Eric form a brotherhood of sorts, one forged in revenge.
While “The Rover” is often visually stunning, and makes for a nice addition to the sub-genre of movies where the stark Australian landscape feels like a deadly threat (“Walkabout,” the “Mad Max” and “Wolf Creek” films) — its blend of “The Road” and “The Road Warrior” falls short.
It’s as solemn as a prayer and Eric is far from sympathetic. He’s willing to take the life of anyone who gets in his way, not just those who have committed a crime against him.
The effect is that air starts to leak out of this balloon about halfway through and it’s completely flat by the end, where the “Are you kidding me?” resolution might prompt some to hurl popcorn at the screen.
There are certainly worse movies out there than “The Rover.” But considering the heavy expectations for these filmmakers after “Animal Kingdom,” it’s the most disappointing.
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