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By Mark Bell | June 16, 2014

In 2010, writer/director David Michôd secured his career as a filmmaker with his first feature, the terrific, gritty tale of gangster life in Australia, Animal Kingdom. Michôd continues his exploration of the thug life in his sophomore follow up, The Rover, a story set in a dystopian future 10 years after a major financial collapse. When money is usually the root of all problems (“Cash Rules Everything Around Me.” — WuTang), the only way to survive is to steal or die trying.

Eric (Guy Pearce) is looking for a car with three people in it. A few hours earlier while he was having a drink at a pub, three goons stole it. It’s not just any car, it’s Eric’s last possession on Earth. Not willing to let this go, Eric, unemployed and ready to make trouble, goes on a roaring rampage of revenge to get his car back, watching as the bodies pile up. Midway through his journey, he comes across Rey (Robert Pattinson, in a terrific career-changing performance), who is bleeding out and left for dead from a robbery gone bad. Once Eric learns Rey is the brother of the head henchman who took his precious set of wheels, Eric gets Rey the proper help he needs to live another day, and forces him to take him to where his brother is hiding out for a few weeks. This trip won’t be easy — along the way they encounter the meanest, trigger-happy criminals and cops itching to dispose of people causing a ruckus on their turf. But Eric must get his car back.

Let’s get down to the real question: How does Robert Pattinson fare? Known for sparkling in vampire movies, RPatz is a pretty face who is willing to dirty down for a role. Rey is lanky and jittery wild dog, and the constant hollowed-out expression on his sad face suggests the lights aren’t always on at home. In his brain is a mountain of idiocy, but he’s a lot smarter than he gives himself credit for. As this misguided cretin, Pattinson shines. If you’ve ever doubted him as a real actor, you can stop here. He proves he’s the real deal; when the role calls for it, he can project any raw emotion needed.

Another terrific performance is by the film’s lead, Guy Pearce. It’s nice to see him back as the anti-hero — Pearce always wears a cool calmness to him, even when playing the bad guy. Eric is riddled with remorse, but plays a cool hand every time. On-screen together, there’s magic in Eric and Rey’s offbeat friendship.

The Rover is a slow narrative, but each shot is carefully planned to keep us hungry. Michôd hangs on to scenes long enough that the audience is begging for a break in tension. When that break does come, it slices through with an explosive gunshot to someone’s face. His bravura is an intimidating reminder that he’s ahead of the audience every step of the way. Gorgeously shot by Natasha Braier (XXY), the grotty landscapes of the rugged Outback haunt with its emptiness, and sizzle from the sun beaming down. Sweat and flies have become a common part of one’s wardrobe here; Michôd is certainly a big fan of Ted Kotcheff’s harrowing masterpiece, Wake in Fright. Mixed with the punch-drunk score by Antony Partos (who worked with Michôd previously on Animal Kingdom), The Rover becomes a frightening look at desperate men who become a malevolent force of nature.

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