While this atmospheric Australian Outback thriller has plenty of edgy action, it's also meandering and arty, refusing to fill in the details until filmmaker David Michod is good and ready. This makes it feel rather slow and uneven, although it's at least consistently fascinating. And as a story of tenacity and survival, it's also a gripping drama.
The story is set 10 years after "the collapse", so there's little sense of law and order in the Outback. When his car is stolen by three outlaws (Scoot McNairy, Tawanda Manyimo and David Field), the strong-silent Eric (Guy Pearce) goes in pursuit. Along the way, he picks up the injured Rey (Robert Pattinson), brother of one of the thugs, who knows where they're headed. As they hit the road, Eric and Rey have a series of encounters with people who are alternatively helpful and menacing, from an inquisitive brothel madam (Gillian Jones) to a nervous doctor (Susan Prior) to an in-over-his-head soldier (Anthony Hayes). There are also plenty of marauding thieves and trigger-happy commandoes who don't hesitate before blowing away anyone who looks odd. But as Eric and Rey begin to bond, they still find it impossible to trust each other.
While the overarching plot is fairly simple, the film plays out in a series of set-pieces as Eric responds a variety of tense situations. The big question hovering above everything is of course why he's so determined to get his car back (the odd answer comes at the very end). Michod's style of filmmaking is more interested in provoking thought than fully satisfying the audience, so scenes are packed with inconclusive twists and turns, vaguely undefined characters and situations, and elements that clearly have some sort of meaning but feel rather impenetrable. Pearce's performance fits this style perfectly; Eric is a man who says very little, letting a steely glare convey more than any number of words would. In jarring contrast, Pattinson's Rey is a hyperactive mess, a simple-minded guy who never stops moving and talking.
Instead of adding an odd-couple vibe, this disparity between the two central figures throws the film off-balance. But it's such an intriguingly conceived project that it still holds the interest. The premise feels a lot like a prequel to the original Mad Max movie: society has collapsed but full-on warfare is still to come. Indeed, in this place and time, strangers are slightly more likely to get a bullet in the head than a warm welcome. So the few moments of humanity that Eric and Rey encounter are genuinely emotional. As is the tiny spark of humanity Eric discovers within himself.
Run time: 103 mins
In Theaters: Friday 20th June 2014
Box Office USA: $1.1M
Distributed by: A24 Films
Production compaines: Blue-Tongue Films, Porchlight Films, Lava Bear Films, Screen Australia
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 65%
Fresh: 103 Rotten: 55
IMDB: 6.5 / 10
Director: David Michod
Producer: David Michod, David Linde, Liz Watts
Screenwriter: David Michod
Starring: Robert Pattinson as Reynolds, Guy Pearce as Eric, Scoot McNairy as Henry, Nash Edgerton as Town Soldier, Anthony Hayes as Sgt. Rickofferson, Susan Prior as Dot, Gillian Jones as Grandma, Tawanda Manyimo as Caleb
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