Robert Pattinson’s Cannes Makeover Gets Darker and Bloodier With ‘The Rover’

Cannes 2014: David Michod’s grimy road movie joins “Maps to the Stars” as an opportunity for indie-driven reinvention

After the last couple of days at Cannes, it’s easy to see why Robert Pattinson is on the cover of French Premiere with the headline “la metamorphose.”

The two movies that have brought Pattinson to the Croisette are weird, dark, supremely edgy and nothing like what we might expect from an actor who became famous as the vampire dude in the “Twilight” movies.

His reinvention (at least when he strays into the indie world) is indeed a metamorphosis. And Cannes has become an accessory to his intriguing makeover, which actually started a couple of years ago when he came to the festival with David Cronenberg’s austere and arty “Cosmopolis.”

This year, he’s back with Cronenberg’s “Maps to the Stars” and David Michod’s “The Rover” which premiered on back-to-back days at Cannes. Both are bloody, brutal and strange, and both are terrific.

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And the remarkable thing is that “Maps to the Stars,” in which Pattinson plays a chauffeur driver and aspiring actor who ends up having sex with Julianne Moore in the back seat of his car before almost everybody in the whole movie self-destructs spectacularly, turns out to be only the runner-up in the competition to see which of Pattinson’s Cannes movies is darker and edgier.

The dark ‘n’ edgy crown really goes to “The Rover,” a brutally brilliant and brilliantly brutal post-apocalyptic road movie that crawls along creepily before periodically erupting into violence. Nobody in this movie walks away clean – but then, nobody walks in clean, either.

That’s hardly a surprise, given that Michod burst on the festival scene in 2010 when he took the black and provocative crime drama “Animal Kingdom” to Sundance, starting a run that gave him some real heat and landed Jacki Weaver an Oscar nomination.

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“The Rover,” which is screening out of competition and will be released in the U.S. by A24, is more ambitious than that tightly-wound family-that-kills-together story. Set in a grimy time described only as “10 years after the collapse,” his new film creates a vision of a ravaged future in which nothing is shiny and everyone you meet will happily rip you off, rob you blind or leave you in a pool of blood.

A lone traveler played by Guy Pearce has his car stolen at the beginning of the film and leaves a trail of bodies as he tries to get it back; early in the journey, he picks up a passenger in Pattinson, a none-too-bright drifter with a drawl, a dopey grin and a few of his own reasons for making the trip.

Of course, you can’t make a road movie about a savage post-industrial, post-disaster Australia without summoning up the ghosts of “Mad Max” and “The Road Warrior” (if not “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome,” which occupies its own ignoble niche). But George Miller‘s ’70s and ’80s movies had better cars, more stylish wardrobes and much more of an action-flick sensibility; Michod isn’t afraid to rachet up the tension with long stretches in which not much happens.

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(What is it with brutal minimalism at this year’s Cannes? Lisandro Alonso’s Un Certain Regard entry “Jouja,” with Viggo Mortensen as a Danish officer trekking through the South American looking for his daughter, hits some of the same notes but is so minimalist as to qualify as an art project as much as a movie.)

Pearce is an excellent anchor for this angry trip through a vicious and parched landscape, but we knew he would be. But Pattinson, who Cronenberg sometimes seemed to use specifically because of a certain blankness (particularly in “Cosmopolis”), gets a weird and meaty role and turns out to know what to do with it.

While “The Rover” played at a Cannes screening on Monday afternoon, incidentally, high winds buffeted the canvas sails and panels that made up part of the salle de Soixantieme screening room. At times it sounded as if the building was about to come down in some massive conflagration – and they couldn’t have been showing a more appropriate movie if it did.