Continuing Australian film’s long standing love affair with outlaws in the Bush, David Michôd’s latest directorial effort following 2010’s ‘Animal Kingdom’ lands us in a dystopian Outback ten years after the world has gone to hell (we never really learn the details as to how, why, or to what full extent) as we watch Guy Pearce stop at the surviving remnants of a bar for sustenance, his soul exhausted and heavy with despair, barely noticing the liquid he consumes as his car is nicked in the background, instigating his search for both it and the perpetrators for the rest of the film. The thieves are already making a getaway after a robbery gone awry, with the sibling, Robert Pattinson, of one of their number left inured behind, thus becoming the primary lead for Pearce to follow up on.
Ultimately this is simply a very ill conceived ‘buddy’ film, as the two leads begin to bond and look out for one another, despite it originally being a hostage situation, but as time goes on we realise that these characters are basically both scumbags with an approach to violence not justified by the setting – we learn, for example, that law enforcement still operates in the country generally and indeed in the remote settlements where the action takes place. The main point behind this post apocalyptic future is that it sets up Pearce’s character arc – when everything went south globally he committed a horrific crime and nobody chased after him for it. The idea is that his conscience has been tormented by this ever since (both the deed and the lack of ensuing consequences) to the point that now acts of brutality against anyone in his way are done almost without having to think twice about them, as if he were trying to fast-track his own way to hell for the punishment he craves, punishment necessary for the absolution that he hopes will somehow accompany it.
In this respect, the film does have some success and a few notable moments, largely due to another great turn from Pearce (he is consistently impressive, in fact he had back to back cameo appearances in two best picture winners at the Oscars a few years ago with ‘The Hurt Locker’ 09 and ‘The King’s Speech’ 10), but the difficultly lies with every other aspect of the film. I wouldn’t describe Robert Pattinson as a particularly natural actor, in fact I think his spattering of roles since Potter and Twilight have been justified not by his prior work but rather the media status that stalks him, and although it’s true that whilst watching this I did have a large internal debate as to whether or not I was being too harsh on him, I was similarly continually bombarded with the feeling that ‘something just isn’t right here’, eventually coming to the conclusion that his performance is … well, laughable actually, partly because I did laugh at it at the precise moment when the story called for a polar opposite response.
He sports what passes for a good American accent from somewhere in the South, and he is supposed to be not quite mentally handicapped but not too far off it either, but it just constantly feels like he’s trying way too hard, and why after presumably a number of years in Oz (I think he offers some explanation for their current appearance in Australia but he was mumbling so badly I couldn’t make head nor tail of it) is his accent still that strong? Not to mention the fact that his brother sounds nothing like him. Did he fail to pull off an Australian accent during the interview and this was his alternative? When one half falters the whole must suffer, especially when it’s both the character and the actor playing them – and things aren’t helped by the pace and music, which starts off by nicely setting up tension and anticipation but then just becomes monotonous and at times silly (a number of people walked out of the screening, possibly because of the gratuitous violence but likely because it is also peppered with tediousness).
I suspect writers Joel Edgerton and Michôd started with Pearce’s character and his issues as a core concept and then just contrived the rest around it, leaving a hollow feeling, as if some of the violence is in there for its own glory’s sake, and when you finally find out exactly why the protagonist is so ruthlessly hunting his stolen car, well, let’s just say it probably would have provoked more unintentional laughter from The Red Dragon if I hadn’t been beyond caring by that point.