“Not everything has to be about something,” remarks Eric (Guy Pearce), a gaunt loner intent on recovering his stolen car amid the devastatingly bleak backdrop of a post-apocalyptic Australia. He’s speaking to Rey (Robert Pattinson), a mentally challenged young man who was left for dead by his brother and his cohorts, who happen to be the car thieves in question. Initially, the pairing of these two is exclusively a relationship of kidnapper and hostage, as Eric desperately needs Rey to find where the car might be headed, but as time passes, the association between the two men changes subtly, not so much into friendship as into a mentoring kind of thing. The childlike Rey really believes his brother Henry (Scoot McNairy) would never have left him behind without coercion, and is waiting for him, while Eric, in his few words, conveys the idea that life is harsh and studded with aborted expectations and dashed hopes.
Not exactly a feel-good movie, The Rover, directed and co-written (with Joel Edgerton) by David Michôd, is nevertheless captivating. The stark landscape conjures up Mad Max memories but lacks all the sci-fi shtick, grounding its limited action and even more limited dialogue in a grueling, sweaty, sun-baked flatland. The few survivors of the preface’s stated “collapse” hunker down in tiny hamlets made of corrugated steel and rusted-out RVs, selling canned goods and petrol for American dollars and constantly looking for whomever is next going to attempt to take what’s little left that’s there. There’s a good reason, ostensibly, that Eric will not stop till he retrieves his car—I mean, in this environment, it’s apparently a very hot commodity and seemingly his only true possession. Throughout the movie other characters ask him why he’s so monomaniacal about this quest, and by movie’s end, we have a sense of why, not to mention what drives Eric. But not everything has to be about something.
That’s a theory which doesn’t sit right with Rey, however, and it makes this character so much more compelling. As the movie spirals towards its inevitable, yet still surprising, conclusion, one can’t help but worry for Rey. Unlike Eric, he still has the patina, under his jagged speech and limited mental capacity, of the lone bud of innocence in a ravaged modern wilderness. Both Pearce and Pattinson deliver stunning performances, which go a long way toward helping the audience forgive the fact that the narrative is a bit flimsy. The Rover is a harrowing trip into the dark recesses left when humanity is no longer an option.