Release Date: June 13, 2014 limited; wider June 20
Rating: R (for strong language and some bloody/graphic violence)
Genre: Drama
Run Time: 102 min
Directors: David Michôd
Cast: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scott McNairy, Tawanda Manyimo, David Field

There are films that separate the moviegoers from the cinephiles, and The Rover is certainly one of them. There's great craftsmanship on display here – controlled, meticulous, even soul bearing – but it's also the polar opposite of escapist fare. On the contrary, The Rover takes us through the wringer right along with its two leads. It's also a prime – and primal – example of just how vigorous the cinematic medium can be.

Set ten years after an undefined global apocalypse (referred to here simply as "The Collapse," which suggests a financial rather than militaristic reckoning), The Rover focuses intimately and intensely on a small rural corner of this God-forsaken rock – the Australian Outback, specifically. People continue to live off the leftovers of the bygone culture, scrounging for scraps in a grimy and lawless world. It's basically a less-stylized, more realistic version of Mad Max; a completely humorless Wild West-like tale of obsession that explores the human condition when brought to the breaking point.

The story follows Eric (Guy Pearce, Iron Man 3), a hard-boiled ex-soldier who's just trying to keep his head low and mind his own business. When a trio of thieves steal his car, however, Eric snaps. Using the banged-up truck they left behind, Eric pursues the three men; yes, to get his car back, but more truthfully it's a catalyst for Eric to mete out an accumulated rage against an unforgiving world. He's outmanned and outgunned, and he doesn't even need his car back as their truck runs perfectly well, but he's a man obsessed. His pursuit isn't about justice, and certainly not born of necessity; it devolves simply into vengeance.

Along the way, he gains an accomplice: Rey (Robert Pattinson, The Twilight Saga), a brother of one of the thieves. While Eric is hardened, Rey is more of the abused animal; broken down and weak, still holding to some ideal of a quiet and peaceful existence, yet so traumatized that despite his own forgiving nature he'll lash out when threatened. He's the human equivalent of the mangy stray in need of a home. Rey joins Eric in the hopes of reuniting with his brother, believing their separation was accidental, even as Eric tries to dispel Rey of that naïve and misplaced notion.

The premise is basic, and the narrative remains streamlined. Consequently, The Rover is much more an exercise in cinematic style and psychological study than anything else, one that plays with what can be created and revealed through action and tone rather than exposition or backstory. What's created is palpable; what's revealed is negligible.

It's the second film from writer/director David Michôd, the follow-up to his critically-acclaimed 2010 indie crime thriller Animal Kingdom. While both movies strive for similar aesthetic provocations, this time out Michôd looks to reach them in very different ways, stripping away the narrative and character complexities that were scripted into his first film and instead limiting himself to what his directorial craft can observe, capture, and mold.

The answer to that is both a lot and not enough. There's plenty of atmosphere and grim, violent viscera to compel and engage us, and it's a thrill to watch a film directed with such precise intension and control, and such a gift for genre ambiance, but our lack of understanding these characters – who they are, where they came from, and what they've personally lost – keeps us at arm's length, as does the nihilistic thematic simplicity.