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Australian actress Nicole Kidman arrives on the red carpet of Shanghai International Film Festival opening ceremony in Shanghai on June 14
‘Rover’ brutally brilliant movie Does Pattinson impress or bore critics?

LOS ANGELES, June 15, (RTRS): Robert Pattinson continues his quest for recognition outside the “Twilight” franchise in bleak apocalyptic thriller “The Rover” this weekend, and critics are mixed as to whether or not he completely pulls it off. The R-rated movie, directed by David Michod, has scored a majority of positive reviews on critic aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, which currently grades the movie as 67 percent “fresh” after counting 48 reviews. Set in the Australian Outback “10 years after the collapse,” Guy Pearce (“Memento”) takes the lead as a survivor whose car is stolen by a gang of thieves led by Scoot McNairy (“Monsters”), while Pattinson plays McNairy’s brother, left for dead along the dusty road. Pearce and Pattinson’s forge an unlikely alliance as they journey to track down the men responsible for their woes. TheWrap’s Steve Pond praised the film as “a brutally brilliant and brilliantly brutal post-apocalyptic road movie” after it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. Wrap critic Diane Garrett shared similar sentiments in her review, and complimented Pattinson for his portrayal of Pearce’s “half-wit” sidekick.

“Pattinson does a commendable job moving beyond his sparkly-vampire period, especially in a heart-wrenching scene with McNairy, but the movie really belongs to Pearce,” Garrett wrote. “He conveys his character’s deep despair over society’s anomie, crying out that a lost life should mean something, while at other times his eyes tell you everything you need to know about the character and what he’s seen.” Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan joined the praise for the film featuring Pattinson “convincingly” stepping out of his teen idol shoes to take a dirty and bloody ride through the Outback.

“Masterfully brought to life by Guy Pearce in a performance of pure controlled ferocity, Eric and his implacable, obsessive, stop-at-nothing quest to recover his stolen vehicle is the centerpiece of David Michod’s tense and remorseless ‘The Rover,’ a film shot in 100-degree-plus heat that chills the blood as well as the soul,” Turan wrote. “Pearce’s willingness to give an integrity of purpose mixes well with Michod’s intense, controlled direction and his ability to blend unexpected, empathetic character moments with all the killing. It’s a combination that all but guarantees that ‘The Rover’ will put you away.” LA Weekly critic Amy Nicholson borrowed a phrase from 2008 comedy “Tropic Thunder” to describe Pattinson’s performance as “going full retard.” Although Robert Downey Jr’s Kirk Lazarus noted actors should never make that kind of commitment, Nicholson suggests Pattinson proves otherwise.

“He appears to have picked the role precisely because it will send his ‘Twilight’ fans screaming out of the theater. As the bumbling, guileless Rey, Pattinson has allowed the makeup crew to rot his teeth; when he smiles, his incisors get stuck on the corners of his mouth and hang there like limp socks,” Nicholson wrote. “If his playing a mentally handicapped role here is a desperate stunt, he mostly lands it — He makes Rey a person, not a cliche, and arguably more of a complex character than Pearce’s angry.” Vulture critic David Edelstein was also impressed by Pattinson’s “full retard” approach, but wasn’t entirely convinced in its validity, and wasn’t fond of the overall film, either.

“‘The Rover’ is the handiwork of Aussie David Michod, whose overpraised 2010 ‘Animal Kingdom’ was memorable chiefly for the nightmarish mother-son tag-team of Jacki Weaver and Ben Mendelsohn. This one is even darker — but also sillier, easy to watch at arm’s length and easier to shake off. It’s overbaked art-pulp,” Edelstein wrote. “Pattinson’s hair is shaved to the skull and his teeth artfully mottled. His diction is American Deep-South mush. He’s not convincing, but I’m impressed that he’s willing to go, as Kirk Lazarus in ‘Tropic Thunder’ would say, “the full retard.’” Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers had nothing but kind words for both Michod’s “brilliantly rendered” vision and his stars’ performances. “All you really need to know is that ‘The Rover’ is a modern Western that explodes the terms good and evil; that its desolation is brilliantly rendered by Michod and cinematographer Natasha Braier; that Pearce and Pattinson are a blazing pair of opposites,” Travers wrote. “Pattinson, free of the ‘Twilight’ trap, shows real acting chops, especially in a moving final scene. In revealing two men trying to get in touch with the shreds of their shared humanity, Michod offers a startling vision. You’ll be hooked.”

New York Times critic A.O. Scott sided with the 33 percent minority who were not particularly fond of the latest take on a familiar genre, for one reason or another. “He demonstrates once again that he has a knack for violence and suspense. (The sound design in particular is brilliantly sinister.) But he can’t find much of interest beyond the puffed-up, stripped-down glumness that is this genre’s default mood,” Scott wrote. “There is both too much story and not enough. The contours of this desolate future are lightly sketched rather than fully explained, which is always a good choice. But that minimalism serves as an excuse for an irritating lack of narrative clarity, so that much of what happens seems arbitrary rather than haunting.”

Unlikely to win an endorsement from the Australian Tourism Board, “The Rover” presents an unrelentingly bleak view of the land Down Under in the near future. There’s nary a koala in sight and no jocular offers to throw another shrimp on the barbie in writer-director David Michod’s downbeat road movie, set in the hot and dusty Outback 10 years after an undefined collapse. A general air of lawlessness prevails, with armed soldiers patrolling streets populated with flophouses and surly shopkeepers. The movie’s two attractive leads — Guy Pearce and “Twilight” idol Robert Pattinson — spend the movie caked in grime and sweat, batting bugs out of their eyes.

“The Rover’s” dystopia isn’t rooted in repressive control like “Divergent” or “The Hunger Games,” but rather in overriding despair and a breakdown of order. Consequently it’s both more realistic and more dispiriting than the heavily art-directed YA allegories proliferating at the box office lately. “The Rover” begins when a bearded Eric (Pearce) stops for a drink long enough for criminals on the lam to steal his car. Unwilling to let it go for reasons that don’t become fully clear until the movie’s conclusion, Eric takes after the thieves with a vengeance, at first trying to run them off the road like a maniac.

The character, seeming a victim at first, grows increasingly murky as the movie progresses, as capable of casual violence as the next guy. He forges an unlikely alliance with Rey (Pattinson), the “half-wit” brother of Henry (Scoot McNairy), whom the thieves have left for dead. In Pearce’s oblique performance, it’s never quite clear how much Eric cares for Rey, but he does look after him in his own way. An even grimier Rey returns the favor when Eric gets in a jam. The movie culminates in a dramatic showdown and funeral pyre. Even those that survive don’t seem overly happy about it. Such is the despair over the meaning of life in “The Rover.”“You shouldn’t stop thinking about life you’ve taken,” Eric advises Rey at one point. “That’s the price you pay for taking it.”

The cast is poly-ethnic and filled with immigrants, including Pattinson’s Rey; Australians have no corner on lawlessness in this movie. Dogs have to be locked up or else someone will eat them, and shop owners won’t help a troubled visitor unless he first buys a tin of something.  “The Rover” is less an allegory than a suggestion how bad things could become. It’s well made, and it’s disturbing, if not overly passion inducing. And it probably won’t make you rush out and book a holiday in Oz.

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