At one point in “The Rover,” a simple-minded American named Rey (Robert Pattinson) launches into an oddly detailed reminiscence to Eric, an angry Aussie (Guy Pearce).
When he asks why he is sharing this trivial information about strangers now deceased, Rey counters, “Not everything has to be about somethin,’ ” although it turns out he’s trying to distract himself from dark thoughts.
It takes a while to figure what “The Rover” is about and what drives Eric to nearly spontaneously combust from the rage burning inside him. It’s a far better exercise in acting and moody moviemaking than in screenwriting, given how stingy director-writer David Michod is with background information.
The terse note “Australia, 10 years after the collapse” appears at the beginning, and Mr. Pearce fumes wordlessly for the first 15 minutes in the sun-scorched heat where the flies don’t mind the 110-degree temperatures.
Starring: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson.
Rating: R for language and some bloody violence.
A Western economic collapse has turned Australia into a resource-rich Third World country, which draws people from around the world to work the mines. Australian dollars are rejected in favor of U.S. money, and there are few cars or much affordable gasoline to power them. Depravity and lawlessness are widespread, respect for human life almost nonexistent, and scarce supplies are available for sale in armed, half-empty outposts.
When Eric’s car is stolen at the beginning by three men (Scoot McNairy, Tawanda Manyimo, David Field), he starts to chase them, determined to reclaim his only remaining possession. As a woman later says to him, “You must really love that car, darling. What a thing to get worked up about in this day and age.”
When Eric stumbles across the injured Rey, who has a connection to the treacherous trio, he tries to help him, so he can lead him to the thieves and the auto. They forge an unlikely alliance in this film from Mr. Michod, director-writer of the downbeat crime drama “Animal Kingdom,” which starred Mr. Pearce, Joel Edgerton and Oscar nominee Jacki Weaver.
“The Rover” reminds us that Mr. Pattinson, here with short hair, frequent hesitation and a child-like vulnerability mixed with an adult’s ability to brandish a gun, can step outside the “Twilight” series and tackle other roles. He briefly sings along to Keri Hilson’s “Pretty Girl Rock” — “Don’t hate me ’cause I’m beautiful” — and holds his own against Mr. Pearce, who can convey virtually anything with eyes that go crazy, cold and or tearful.
It’s the lack of punishment for a heinous act that rattles someone who acknowledges, “No one ever came after me. You do a thing like I did, it should mean something.”
“The Rover,” shot near the Flinders Ranges and elsewhere in South Australia in some towns with populations as low as 90, proves too spare in the end. But it eventually answers the question about why, in that day and age, anyone would care so much about a vehicle when everything and everyone has been lost.
Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies.