'It’s time to put away those Edward Pattinson jokes — the kid can act. He showed more attachment to the elephant in Water for Elephants than costar Reese Witherspoon, but then he probably knew better how it felt: Twilight turned him into the most gawped at mammal on the planet. He cut like a blade through the first film, cheekbones set to stun, as pale as a rock-star-in-recovery, summoning a palpable sense of threat. The series emasculated Edward as it wore on, shoving him to the side of the action, while Bella grew increasingly impatient— it was the only vampire series in which the vampires were afraid of the virgins, and exploited Pattinson’s greatest flaw as an actor: his passivity. He was coolly dissipated in In David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis as a megastar essaying the end of the world in blacked-out limo shades, but the film, and the role, both stayed well within the confines of the comfortably numb. In his new film, The Rover, Pattinson tries a different tack in his pursuit of a world seen without yellow contact lenses: he acts his socks off.
When we first see him, he is face down in the Australian outback, bleeding out into the dirt. He’s been abandoned by his brother (Scoot McNairy), who heads up a gang of thugs making their getaways in a truck, with another member bleeding in the back. What they have done, or even who they are, is never made clear. The film, directed by David Michod, is set “ten years after the collapse”, in a future where resources like petrol and water have gone much the same place as the world’s reserves of narrative exposition. You could waterboard this movie and still not get much more out of it. The whole thing is told in the mythic-elliptic style first pioneered in the spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone and later retrofitted as pulp by George Miller in the Mad Max films — where the post-apocalypse means never having to explain yourself. So we never find out the exact circumstances that led to Pattinson being left for dead, or why he is speaking in a Southern White Trash accent, while everyone else speaks Australian, or why he is being hunted by squadron of American soldiers. Did he desert? What is important is that he crosses paths with Guy Pearce, about whom we know even less, except that a) He never cracks a smile. B) He looks pissed even before the gang make off with his car. And c) He wants it back. That’s how mythic he is, his character carved out in the dust cloud left by his actions. He’s the Man With No Ride Home.
For the first 20 minutes or so, all this enigma flashes brilliantly in the mid-day sun. The director David Michod draws his two plot-lines together as if gathering a noose, the sense of suspense brought to a head by a wonderful of shot of Pearce sitting in a dimly-lit bar, his eardrums pounded by karaoke, as a car tumbles past the window behind him, unheard, in the blinding sunlight — it’s the kind of shot that makes you yelp with joy, it’s so damn good. There follows a chase, with Pearce in hot pursuit, the camera slung down at fender level, as it was for Spielberg’s Duel, which ends with a tense stand-off between the two vehicles, now stationary at 30 yards distance, the camera lodged just behind the front tyre of one, watching to see who makes the first move.
What Michod has made, you realise, is a kind of Western — one of those zero-sum Peckinpahs in which men, like scorpions, sting each other to death beneath a baking sun — and would that it were anywhere near as good as those electrifying first twenty minutes. The rest of it is a road movie that runs out of road, as Pearce, now with a captive Pattinson in tow, attempts to turn him against his brother and get that car back. That’s it. I would happily deliver more spoilers but the whole thing is so studiously minimal, that you are now in possession of as many facts about this movie as I am. “You must really love that car,” says the madam of a local brothel which, like everyone, claws out an existence servicing mankind’s baser needs from a ramshackle out-house tucked to the side of the highway. The soundtrack, meanwhile features an assortment of ambient twangs and shivers that can best be described as the world’s first didgeridoo gang-rape. It’s all enough to make you wonder if post-apocalyptic road movies aren’t for Australian directors merely a way of toning up, like Shakespeare for Brits, of movies about losing your virginity for the French.'