Every time you mention Robert Pattinson on Twitter, 8,000 zombie fans retweet/favorite/respond in a fit of passion. Here’s the science on why: Pattinson devotees (only a portion of the Twihard fanbase) sit at their computers watching the Twitter “Robert Pattinson” search feed, waiting for new facts, praise, or trolling. Whenever a new tweet comes through, it’s like a shot of adrenaline to the heart. If there was a way to intravenously feed Pattinson updates into Pattinson fans’ bloodstreams, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services would have no choice but to install it in ninth grade classrooms everywhere, but that’s not an option. So to those casually tweeting about Robert Pattinson: breathe. The rabid fanbase is just trying to stay alive.
Aside from drowning us in OMGs, Robert Pattinson’s vocal and aggressive contingent lingers like a fog around the 28-year-old actor. They’re his champions and his downfall. Normal people with taste can’t take him seriously. It’s the opposite of Nic Cage syndrome: Instead of digging his own grave with ridiculous on and off-screen moments, his fans dig it for him. But there’s an intriguing career behind Pattinson’s heartthrob persona, easy to write off with an army of tweens blindly endorsing his every move. His work in The Rover demands reconsideration of everything he’s done before.
Set in a near-yet-dystopian future, the latest from Australian director David Michôd (Animal Kingdom) is the bleakest type of revenge thriller. When Eric (Guy Pearce) loses his Holden Commodore to a triumvirate of small time crooks, he sets out on a quest across desolate plains and dilapidated civilization to retrieve his stolen property. His motivations are murky; Eric pursues the gang in the truck they originally owned and abandoned, but will stop at nothing to take back his original vehicle. But The Rover pulls back the layers on its permanent-death-glare antihero when he crosses paths with Pattinson’s Rey, a brother of one of the goons and Eric’s only lead on where to find them.
After five years and five movies, the collective conscious defines Pattinson by his work in the Twilight series: Dead-eyed, perpetually sulking, whispery, model brooding like a Zoolander reject. Rey is no Edward Cullen. The Rover puts Pattinson in Boo Radley mode: a quivering personality, dim in the mental sense, manic at his core. The actor lays in a thick Southern accent for the role, his mumbling drawl adding to youthful naivete. Eric finds Rey bleeding out on the ground, abandoned by the posse that needed a fresh car for escape. After nursing the kid back to help, Eric sticks a gun in his face. Crazy or not, Rey is going to help him get his car back.
Rey is definitely unhinged. Despite calmly accepting the role of Eric’s number two, the mere appearance of Australian military nearby the pair’s motel prompts Rey to grab the nearest pistol and start shooting. When Eric is apprehended by police later in the film, Rey shakes off his crippling fears and clicks into Liam Neeson in Taken mode. All of this from the Twilight dreamboat, who (fairly) took criticism for his general blankness in the supernatural romance series. Rey is a reactionary character, written to watch in terror as Pearce’s effortlessly chews up scenery and blasts his way through the apocalyptic dustbowl, but it’s a vulnerable, raw side of Pattinson we never see. It’s not easily idolized.
Is Robert Pattinson a good actor? Still an unknown — but he’s an ambitious actor. Movies attempting to spin his attractive qualities, over-recognized by Twilight, into charismatic leading man roles failed. The 9/11 romance Remember Me tried to bring him down to Earth, where he can’t live. Bel Ami made him a smooth operating grifter who ladies couldn’t keep their hands off of — a bore, aside from moments where the movie boils Pattinson’s character in drama. Water for Elephants was supposed to be his Titanic. Pattinson isn’t a dapper DiCaprio, even if Hollywood wants him to be. He’s a character. When he plays to his strange strengths, he’s someone worth 8,000 retweets.
David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis was supposed to be a hit-making fusion of art house filmmaking and YA star power. It was a great film — and a total bust at the box office. The Pattinsonites didn’t turn up to see Cronenberg’s metaphorical, Beckettian dissection of the one-percent. But it was the perfect role for the emerging Pattinson, an egomaniac seduced by luxury and lost for words. Cronenberg traps him in a limousine to suffocate on his own eccentricities. Pattinson is up to the task, looking like Rudy on his first day of tryouts. Cosmopolis kicks his ass. It’s a sight to see.
The Rover is another step in that direction. Though the movie is dense, Michôd holding his cards a little too close to his chest, Pattinson opens himself to a beating from his surroundings. He’s dirty, he’s bloody, his teeth are encrusted, and he’s got crazier eyes than Orange Is the New Black‘s Crazy Eyes. He’s trying something. There are rumors that Disney might be eying Pattinson to accept Harrison Ford’s torch in a new Indiana Jones movie. It’s a horrible idea, not because of talent, but because of ability. Jones is a swashbuckling, archetypical hero. The role’s a circle hole to Pattinson’s square peg. The actor needs a movie where he can roll around in the mud — figuratively, literally, either works.
Twlight took Pattinson at face value. His followers bought him as the next Teen Beat cover. But don’t let the Church of Pattinson sway you. The man is a ball of energy, able to be squandered, but weaponized in The Rover.
The Rover opens in New York and Los Angeles on June 13, before opening nationwide on June 20.