Guy Pearce is mad, bored and has nothing to lose. Well, he has one thing to lose and that’s his car (not the Rover of the title, sadly). When the dusty Aussie emerges from a roadside bar and sees criminals making off with his wheels, he finds a purpose that makes him less bored but more mad.
It is his intention to reclaim his car and, nihilist that he is, he is not afraid to spill blood or stare for long periods into the middle distance to get it back.
But this is 10 years after the Collapse. The Outback is dotted with wandering hucksters who are scavenging a lawless world with a gun and a grimace.
Direction comes in the form of mumbling halfwit Rey (Robert Pattinson) whose brother (Scoot McNairy) was one of the car-nabbing crims.
Rey was left for dead by his bro back at a bungled heist but bears no grudges. Eric (Pearce) – who dusts him down and patches him up – manages to sell the wounded gunslinger his own creed – nothing and no-one is reliable, there is no God and the world is bleak and empty.
If Rey was in want of evidence, he need only look out the window where bleak, emptiness and godlessness abound. Writer-director David Michod (behind 2011’s visionary Animal Kingdom) finds buildings that are rich in jumble sale chic and cooked in a furnace that is unbearable, even on this side of the silver screen.
Good job the scenery is so beguiling for the two make for slim company. Eric internalises with an intensity that surely leads to bowel problems and trigger-happy Rey jibbers like a goon. One is still, the other fidgets. Pattinson is exceptionally good and more than a match for Pearce.
Their relationship blossoms like the local flora – slowly, with great effort and without great show.
Kidnapper Eric may initially find sweetly needy Rey a pain but he comes to see him as something more. Rey replaces his brother with Eric as idol.
Of course, this quest is not about a car. And in this slow-burn Western there’s time to conjure theories before Eric must enact his revenge and Rey must decide who to believe.
And while we’re waiting, two men create from their friction a spark of humanity which suggests that, despite appearances, all is not lost.