No, the Aussies didn’t exactly invent post-apocalyptic filmmaking. But they’ve certainly advanced the art of envisioning a modern world where, as “The Rover” ads say, “there’s nothing left to lose.”
David Michod’s “The Rover,” opening Friday, is the newest such film. It’s from the director of the much-praised “Animal Kingdom.”
“Mad Max” and “The Road Warrior,” of course, are probably the most famous Aussie post-apocalyptic fantasies.
It isn’t hard to figure out why such visions after the end of the world would haunt them so much. They’ve got too much land on their island continent. And too little civilization, too sparsely spread around. And, paradoxically, with much too sophisticated a community of native filmmakers. And too much outback to fill their films with.
They’ve also got a population whose oldest ancestry from elsewhere harkens back to its existence as a penal colony.
They’re the American West for the modern world – with wildness, lawbreaking and disorder, almost literally, in their DNA.
The first thing you see in “The Rover” is a title telling us we’re watching “Australia, 10 years after the collapse.”
Don’t bother asking “collapse of what?” The proper answer, no doubt, is “everything.” Or to be specific, “civilization.”
Gasoline is scarce. And expensive. So are bullets. Murder, though, is rife. People get shot to death the minute they become inconvenient.
All that happens in “The Rover” is that a mysterious outback survivor stops by an outback bar for a drink and discovers his car has been stolen by three fugitives fleeing from God-knows-what criminality. (In the world of post-apocalyptic film, Aussie-style, too much explication is frowned upon.)
One of the fugitives is wounded. They allude to another – the brother of one of the men, who got himself killed and had to be left behind.
It’s that car, though, that our haunted and filthy wanderer wants back and seems ready to move heaven and earth for. Which means, he’s willing to inflict hell on anyone in his way.
In the movie’s single moment of comedy, an incongruously proper and cold-blooded outback dowager (who has previously offered the wanderer the sexual services of a shirtless boy) observes that the diffident fellow sure loves his car.
“What is it about that car that you love so much?”
It’s the animating force of the film. You find out why in the film’s final 90 seconds. As film climaxes go, it’s quite odd and, at the same time, immensely satisfying in its way – an appropriately grotesque ending for a world where nothing matters.
Gun-waving is pervasive, but you won’t always know when shooting and death are going to happen.
Our filthy wanderer is “beyond good and evil” as Nietszche might have had it. But in order to find the man who stole his car, he has to pair up with the slow-witted brother who was mistakenly left for dead. It turns out that a little bit of roughneck outback surgery can get him moving again. He knows where his brother might go. It’s just about all the information his meager brain seems to contain.
He’s played with brown teeth and largely incoherent line delivery by Robert Pattinson, who is hereby proclaiming to the world, “I’m an actor, not a heartthrob dimwit for supermarket mag covers.”
He’s mildly interesting as such, but it’s Guy Pearce as the wanderer who gives one of the most impressive performances of his career. His fair-haired good looks are a memory here. So, too, is any verbal facility he might ever have had. He scarcely has more than 150 words of dialogue in the whole film. But the steeliness of his eyes and the blankness of his face register both as frightening intensity and an even more frightening despair.
All is eventually revealed in that final 90 seconds.
The bad news about this highly stylized film about the outback is that its wall-to-wall absence of civilization is often devoid of interest between its sudden encounters with dramatic incident and death.
Little audience catnaps are distinctly possible before it’s over.
But Pearce, for him, does something a bit rare in the film – and Pattinson, at least, gets a “B” for effort.
All leading up to that admirably odd but effective climax.
Mad Max, no doubt, would have liked it.