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The Rover

“Australia, ten years after the collapse,” says an opening title, and that’s all the set-up we get in The Rover, a dystopian chase movie set in the flat, endless outback. What caused this collapse, or even how widespread it was, is not addressed and really not that important. It’s just a way to establish at the beginning that we are in lawless territory, though given the bleakness of the region it’s probably not all that worse than it was a decade earlier. (Aside from the occasional corpses crucified on telephone poles and the lady who keeps her dogs locked up so they won’t be taken for food.)

Our hero, for lack of a better word, is Eric. At least that’s what he’s called in the end credits: if his name was ever used I missed it. He is played by Guy Pearce, nearly unrecognizable with his scruffy beard and minimal dialogue. At the beginning of the film his car is stolen by three fleeing miscreants after they crash their pick-up truck. Eric gets the truck back on the road and spends the rest of the movie chasing the trio to get his car back.

He is guided to their hideout by Rey, who was part of the gang until they left him behind for dead. Rey is played by Edward Pattinson as part of a campaign to show he can play something besides translucent vampires. As a half-dead, dim-witted hillbilly (he’s an immigrant from the US) he gives the role his all and then some.

In the canon of Australian apocalyptic cinema, The Rover rests somewhere between the original Mad Max and The Road. While it is certainly nasty at times, it doesn’t ever hit the levels of grimness reached by either of those, for which we can all be grateful.

It was written and directed by David Michod, whose 2010 debut film was Animal Kingdom, about a nasty Australian crime family. (Don’t feel bad if you didn’t see it—not many people did, even though it won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress). If The Rover seems lacking in meaning, it’s unarguably well crafted, consistently (but not unbearably) grim and gritty, with a suitably atmospheric soundtrack by Antony Partos. Pearce, a good but generally undernoticed actor, holds your attention as a man you have no reason to care about but still do.

Do we ever find out why Eric is so determined to get his car back? We do, and I wish we hadn’t: it ends the film with a blunt slap of irony that it would have been better off without. The Rover won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but especially during the summer months its good to get a small-scale action movie that gets by without millions of dollars of CGI effects,

Opens Friday June 20 at the Eastern Hills Mall Cinema.

Watch the trailer for The Rover

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