CANNES, France (AP) — "It's getting howly out there," says the Australian director David Michod, peering out at a torrential downpour that's pounding the southern coast of France.
The stormy backdrop is fittingly portentous for Michod as he discusses his much anticipated follow-up to the Oscar-nominated debut "Animal Kingdom." He calls "The Rover," which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May and hits theaters Friday, "a portrait of a menacing and damaged near-future."
It takes place 10 years after a vaguely defined "collapse" that has left Australia's currency worthless. The Outback is a fearful, murderous wasteland of gun-toting bandits and wanton depravity. Guy Pearce plays a terse, indifferent wanderer pursuing his one possession — his car — after a band of thieves steal it, leaving behind one of their members, a half-wit played by Robert Pattinson.
"I realized when I was writing it that I was projecting onto Guy's character a lot of the anger and despair I felt about the state of the world, the fact that bankers could destroy economies and then get away with it," says Michod. "Simultaneously, we're presented with the great moral challenge of our time, which is dealing with climate change, and yet no one seems to want to do anything about it. You throw your hands up in the air and go, 'We're destroying ourselves and we don't care.'"
It took Michod four years to find his footing after the runaway success of 2010's "Animal Kingdom," a deliciously dark crime family saga that won critical acclaim, a record number of Australian Film Institute awards and an Academy Award nomination for co-star Jacki Weaver. The film announced Michod's arrival, with some calling him a Scorsese from Down Under. Afterward, he spent years reading scripts and fielding entreaties from Hollywood.
"That couple of years after was strange. Because my life changed, I felt like suddenly an entire world of possibilities had opened to me. And I wanted to explore them," says Michod. "I wasn't roaming the Earth depressed, but there was a level of anxiety there because I did after a while start to go: 'I don't know what my second movie is.'"
He ultimately realized he wanted to make a movie "from the ground up." ''The Rover" was an idea Michod and his friend Joel Edgerton ("The Great Gatsby," ''Warrior") first conceived of years earlier: a lean, minimalistic thriller with exposition meted out in the most judicious of drips. Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" is a clear touchstone.
Michod, 41, wrote the lead specifically for Pearce, who was the lone established star in "Animal Kingdom." The movie brought international renown to the loose Aussie filmmaking collective dubbed Blue-Tongue Films, of which Michod and Edgerton are members.
"I sort of keep forgetting I was in it," Pearce says of "Animal Kingdom." ''I was only on set for a week and a half and those guys, they lived it. It's a hard one to feel connected on the same sort of level when it's changing everyone's lives."
Reconvening for "The Rover" was the first time they saw each other since shooting "Animal Kingdom." Pearce recalls greeting Michod: "'So, your life's been a bit different, then, since I saw you in 2009.' He's like, 'Yeah. Had a meeting with Brad Pitt the other day.'"
Michod, who splits his time between Sydney and Los Angeles, is now developing a film with Pitt about Gen. Stanley McChrystal called "The Operators," based on Michael Hastings' book.
The director's rising star also attracted Pattinson, the "Twilight" actor, who has often played still, cool characters that trade on his severe looks. But in "The Rover," he's received the best reviews of his career for playing a fidgeting, bloodied misfit with a stuttering Southern accent.
"There was something about the speech pattern," says Pattinson. "When you're reading something, it's very rare that you actually want to say it out loud. As soon as I started reading this, it was just a fun voice. You become really annoying and run into the other room: 'Listen to this!' And they say, 'What are you talking about? I can't understand anything you're saying.'"
"The Rover" may seem similar to other visions of bleak futures, but Michod says the film isn't about its genre.
"As soon as you present a dystopian vision that is the result of some kind of apocalypse, it's like it gives the movie license to become popcorn," says Michod. "I wanted this thing to feel like it was just a natural extension of the forces that are bubbling around us today."
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jake_coyle