'The Rover' (R)

In The Rover, Robert Pattinson drives a stake through his Twilight heartthrob status. We saw hints of this before, in David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, but that performance was intentionally monotone and limited in range. Here, Pattinson plays Rey, the none-too-bright brother of a car thief (the movie implies he may have a mental impairment of some sort) who is kidnapped by Eric, a rageful brute (Guy Pearce) with the worst post-apocalyptic haircut in cinematic history. Eric, the owner of the stolen auto, wants his wheels back, and he intends to use Rey, who has been wounded in a gunfight but is still capable of walking on his own, to lure the crooks and get back what’s his.

The Rover, which takes place in the dusty Australian outback 10 years after society collapsed, is filled with angry, murderous characters who place no value on human life, have lost all shred of manners and always seem to be in a bad mood (I guess I would be too if I were living under such drab conditions). Writer-director David Michôd (who directed the far superior crime drama Animal Kingdom) doesn’t give us any details as to how life on Earth became so dire. There is some sort of police or military force on patrol, but their purpose seems unclear (Are they exterminators? Bounty hunters?). After an exciting high-speed car chase reminiscent of the Mad Max pictures, The Rover settles into a two-character drama between Eric and Rey, but Pearce is so one-note that their relationship is never engaging.

Pattinson, though, finds a way to bring odd life to his thinly sketched character. The actor, caked in dust and blood, doesn’t rely on his looks, using his eyes instead to convey Rey’s inner confusion and turmoil: You can practically hear the crazy voices in his head. Rey is loyal to his brother, but he’s also growing fond of Eric, like a puppy who takes a liking to anyone who shows it kindness. He’s a tragic figure — a babe in treacherous badlands — and although he knows his way around a gun, there’s a vulnerability and gentleness to Pattinson’s acting that imply in a different world, this young man wouldn’t be involved in such violent business. The Rover is so intentionally vague and shapeless, it doesn’t leave much of an imprint other than Pattinson’s odd, melancholy performance. We haven’t seen him quite this way before: Clearly there’s more to this performer than those Twilight movies suggested.

Cast: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scott McNairy, David Field, Jamie Fallon.

Writer-director: David Michôd.

An A24 Films release. Running time: 102 minutes. Vulgar language, violence, heavy gore, adult themes. Opens Friday June 20 in Miami-Dade: South Beach, Sunset Place, Aventura; in Broward: Oakwood, Sawgrass, Paradise; in Palm Beach: Shadowood, Palace, Parisian.