They should've killed him when they had the chance.

'Twas ever thus in revenge thrillers. The "hero" is wronged, injured, left for dead. Only he really isn't.

"The Rover" is set in post-apocalyptic Australia, somewhere between the end of "Mad Max" and the beginning of "The Road Warrior," judging from the looks of it.

An unnamed, sun-spotted, disheveled man pulls up to what amounts to a roadhouse. Guy Pearce doesn't pretty up to play this guy -- hair thinning, beard graying. He hasn't even finished his drink when a trio of robbers, one of them bleeding, have run their SUV into a ditch. They steal the Man with No Name's car.

He rescues their SUV and chases them through the wilderness. They're armed, he's not. But he's kind of crazy.

That's when they have their chance. That's when they don't kill him. And that's when the pursuit turns maniacal, dogged and something epic.

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Robert Pattinson gives a very mannered performance as a Southern-fried member of their gang left for dead at the heist. He's bloodied and "Deliverance" simple but coherent enough to recognize the getaway car that our hero is chasing the bad men in. Pearce takes the young guy hostage, hoping he'll lead him back to the three -- and back to his car.

David Michod ("Animal Kingdom") co-wrote and directed this thriller, neatly depicting a world in partial decay. Every argument is short and bullet-riddled. Everyone is out for himself, and a person hoping for a glint of humanity in this future will be hard-pressed to find it.

"The Rover" is as violent and primal as "Animal Kingdom," but not as brisk. Its chief asset is an unfussy, nihilistic turn by Pearce, one so devoid of vanity that you kind of wish he'd landed the lead in next year's "Mad Max" revival. Pearce is the epitome of the Man Who Has Lost Everything, including, perhaps, his name.

PLOT In post-apocalypse Australia, a road warrior wants revenge on the thugs who stole his car.

RATED R for language and some bloody violence.

CAST Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy


BOTTOM LINE A violent, but slow-moving car chase driven by a fierce Pearce.