Director David Michôd's "The Rover" is as dark and depressing as the harsh Australian landscape that is the backdrop for this after-civilization setting. The draining tale eventually meanders long enough until it gets to an ending that's more idiotic than ironic because the script by Michôd and Joel Edgerton is so painfully sparse.
At the center of this tale that's somewhere between "Mad Max" and "A Boy and His Dog" is the perpetually mad Eric (Guy Pearce). He's a man of few words but plenty of bullets who gets pushed into a journey of death and destruction when his car is stolen by three bickering thieves.
This all unfolds at a time 10 years "after the collapse." What's collapsed is never made clear, but lawlessness reigns. That means if Eric wants his car back, he'll have to go get it.
Eric gets assistance from Rey (Robert Pattinson), a partner to the three car thieves who got left behind when he got wounded in another act of larceny. Eric gets Rey some medical assistance and they head off to find the men, the stolen car and some post-apocalyptic justice.
Michôd's tale would have had more substance if the director/writer had opted to offer a few more clues as to why society appears to be circling the drain. There needs to be some context because there are moments when the end of the world seems near and other times when there's evidence that life is going on as usual in some places.
It also would have helped to know Eric's place in this new world disorder. When he does talk, Eric only offers a few clues to what drives him to an ending that puts an exclamation point on the problems with the script. Pearce does his best to give the film a raw edge through his steely-eyed performance, but too often he's just staring off into the black hole that's the story line.
The biggest surprise is the performance by Pattinson. He's gone 180 degrees from his "Twilight" days to play the physically, mentally and socially challenged sidekick. This isn't just an acting role for Pattinson but a chance to get completely lost in a character and he takes full advantage of that opportunity, turning in the strongest performance of his career.
Michôd brings together a few strong elements from the bleakness of the land to the emptiness in Eric's eyes. To often, those elements get lost in a story so engaged with creating a world where the normal convictions of humanity no longer exist that it forsakes key ingredients to give all of this a proper context.
"The Rover" fails because Michôd has gone for style over substance — a mistake that turns the movie into a wasteland.
"The Rover," rated R for violence, language. Stars Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson. Directed by David Michôd. Running time: 102 minutes. Grade: D+