Director David Michôd's bleak, post-apocalyptic neo-western, "The Rover," begins with a title card explaining that it takes place in Australia 10 years after "the collapse." No more detail is given about how or why this collapse occurred, and it isn't really necessary. It's enough to know that all that remains is the dregs of society, engaged in futile efforts to survive in a world without order.
Working from a story he conceived with actor Joel Edgerton, Michôd's film follows Eric (Guy Pearce), a solitary man of few words, as he ruthlessly chases after his car, stolen from him by a band of criminals fleeing a deadly heist. He finds Rey (Robert Pattinson), the simple-minded brother of one of the bandits (played by Scoot McNairy), who's been left behind to die. Rey begins as Eric's hostage, but gradually becomes a partner as the two grow to depend on one another to navigate the Outback wasteland and its ever-present threat of violence.
The film has been compared to "Mad Max," but those expecting amped up action are going to be disappointed. The story plays out at more of a slow-burn, with its share of tense moments, but focused more on mood than outright thrills. Pearce gives a performance of cold-blooded intensity, with a sadness behind his eyes that shows how long ago he gave up any hope for humanity. He's great, but I was even more impressed by Pattinson, who finds complexity inside what could have been a clichéd role. Cinematographer Natasha Braier's contributes starkly beautiful compositions, constantly framing the characters so they're dwarfed by the immense, harsh landscapes surrounding them. The deliberate pacing does sometimes border on inert, but the performances, along with a great, rueful punchline of an ending, stick with you.