Australians go in big on the Apocalypse. It's no wonder—most of their country already looks the part. David Michôd's The Rover is an ode to the Outback as Death Valley 2069: sun-seared, dust-coated and peopled, like his debut gangster flick, Animal Kingdom, with the ravenous beasts that men become when civilization fails. The Rover begins with a beautiful piece of gallows wit. While a drifter named Eric (Guy Pearce) drinks, we see a truck skidding upside down behind him, turning up a wild cloud of dust. The camera does not flinch. Neither does Eric. Welcome to the new normal. The rest of the film is bleak, angry, slow and silent. It's Dude, Where's My Car? as filmed by Monte Hellman. Because, of course, the bandits in that skidding truck have stolen Eric's ride, apparently the only thing he cares about, and left behind the slow-witted brother (Robert Pattinson) of one of the crooks, whom Eric picks up as the best chance of finding his car. Eric is amoral and full of sadness—basically what happens to people without hope. Pearce makes the most of his oft-disturbingly frozen face, while the bewilderingly Appalachian-accented Pattinson inspires mute, bruised sympathy. As a manly bond forms between the two, it would be tempting to view the film as a parable about redemption in a fallen world. But as Pattinson's own character says, "Not everything has to be about something." Sometimes bleakness is its own reward.
Critic's Grade: A-
SEE IT: The Rover is rated R. It opens Friday at Clackamas, Fox Tower, Bridgeport, Lloyd Center.