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updated: 6/19/2014 7:06 AM

Artistically crafted 'Rover' a bleak post-apocalyptic vision

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  • Eric (Guy Pearce) roughs up Rey (Robert Pattinson) on a quest to recover a stolen car in the post-apocalyptic drama "The Rover."

    Eric (Guy Pearce) roughs up Rey (Robert Pattinson) on a quest to recover a stolen car in the post-apocalyptic drama "The Rover."

  • Video: "The Rover" trailer


David Michod might be completely correct in how his post-apocalyptic drama "The Rover" depicts the world -- at least Australia, the story's setting -- 10 years after a great but vaguely sketched "collapse" destroys society and its financial systems.

But the story is so dark and the characters so inaccessibly calloused that the drama becomes as arid as the Aussie countryside.

Remnants of humanity struggle to survive. The positive attributes of religions have disappeared, so compassion, empathy and kindness carry the same value as Australian money. None.

Desperate, hopeless people think nothing of shooting each other on a whim. They make foolhardy, dangerous decisions, suggesting they have little respect or value for their own lives.

Bleak stuff, this futuristic vision.

Still, the details in "The Rover," written by Michod and actor Joel Edgerton, don't add up.

Like another Australian post-apocalyptic warning, "The Road Warrior," "The Rover" shows us a place depleted of its humanity, but curiously never lacking in the necessities: water, food, weapons, fuel and operating vehicles with good tires.

Had Quentin Tarantino directed "The Rover," he would have started it with the second scene: three panicked men -- one bleeding profusely from bullet wounds -- racing down a road after being involved in a fatal shootout.

Michod, following up his impressive first feature, 2010's domestic crime drama "Animal Kingdom," opens "The Rover" instead with a long, lingering shot of chameleonic actor Guy Pearce staring blankly into the sands of the Australian landscape.

This will not be a Michael Bay action movie.

The plot ignites when the fleeing trio, led by Henry (a haggard Scoot McNairy), survives a rollover car wreck. Desperate to get back on the road, they steal the first car they can find: one belonging to the blankly staring Eric (Pearce).

With Eastwoodian resolve from a Sergio Leone spaghetti western, Eric climbs into the trio's abandoned vehicle, gets it working and heads back on the road.

The chase is on, with Eric emanating a Captain Ahabish obsession from under his constant scowl.

"You must really love that car," a man tells him with bemused understatement.

On his journey, Eric runs into a barely recognizable "Twilight" star Robert Pattinson as Rey, Henry's wounded younger brother, presumed dead and left behind at the scene of the never-seen shootout.

Rey clearly suffers from some sort of behavioral disorder that causes his speech to blurt out in halting, half-finished clips. He isn't the smartest shrimp on the barbie, either, and Eric easily wins his alliance by convincing him that Henry knowingly left his brother to die.

Pattinson is a revelation here. His twitchy, nuanced performance never falters or feels cheap. It reminds me of Leonardo DiCaprio's star-turn role in "What's Eating Gilbert Grape."

Together, these two amazing actors continue Eric's quest to recover the stolen car. What exactly is it about the car that inspires such a "Fitzcarraldo"-like obsession?

Michod's minimalist approach to "The Rover" is both its chief asset and biggest shortcoming. It's a respectable essay on survival, loneliness, trust and loss.

But also one that ponders to the point of ponderousness.

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