The Rover, Australian filmmaker David Michôd's follow-up to the brutish family drama Animal Kingdom, is a post-apocalyptic western from the Outback, a stretch of land that already looks like the world's been blown away. All Michôd needs to convince us of the devastation is a title card pegging the events to "10 years after the collapse" -- the desert soil clings to everything. The characters Michôd has written, a vengeful marksman (Guy Pearce) and a halfwit criminal (Robert Pattinson), have been so forged by the bush that Pearce's doesn't flinch when a bug buzzes up his nose.
The halfwit's brother (Scoot McNairy) and his two accomplices (David Field and Tawanda Manyimo) have stolen the marksman's green Peugeot while on the run from a deadly shoot-out that's never explained. His old sedan was a dump; their jeep is nicer. But instead of appreciating that he got the better half of the deal, Pearce's marksman grabs the two things the thieves ditched — their wheels and a gut-shot Pattinson — and gives chase, a pursuit that drives the film.
Why? Frankly, Michôd barely gives a damn. The Rover is more about mood and mechanics than meaning. Pearce's character is so laconic that his dialogue could have been programmed into a Speak and Spell that only grunts questions and threats. There's enough silent space that Michôd could tell us everything: why the globe collapsed, how Rey (that's Pattinson's character) has a yokel accent, where Eric (and that's Pearce's) got his bullet wounds. Yet Michôd would rather we piece it together ourselves. The Rover might not be about anything at all, but the dust it stirs up sticks to you after you leave the theater.