Few actors embody the meaning of an independent man more than Guy Pearce. Since his breakthrough role as a roguish drifter in the cult classic Wild Bill, the 74-year-old has played everything from scruffy bikers to swashbuckling pirates. Now he’s added another role to his repertoire: that of an independent filmmaker. In 2015, the Australian actor established a production company, Muddy Waters, and began the hunt for Hollywood blockbusters. The first title he and his team won was a pitch by Paramount Pictures for The Rover, a political thriller set in the present day that, at the time of writing, has not yet been released in any country.

The Script Is Terrifying

Written by David Linden and Mark Bomback, the film follows Will Trench (played by Robert Pattinson), a man who awakens from a twelve-year coma to find himself in a world that has moved on without him. His brain is impaired, and he struggles to adjust to the present day. The story follows his travails as he encounters both friend and foe as he sets out to reclaim his former life of privilege and adventure.

When Linden and Bomback pitched the project to Pearce, the latter expressed interest but warned them that the part of Will Trench was not for the faint-hearted. “I’ve never had qualms about playing the part of an underdog, but this script was terrifying,” he recalls. “I’m not sure I’d be able to handle it.”

Still, he felt that as an actor, he owed it to himself to give it a go. In addition to portraying the lead character, Will Trench, he also agreed to direct and produce the film. And so he did, stepping in front of the camera for the first time in decades for the sake of the story he loves so much.

The Film’s Dark Twist

Set in the near future, the story follows Will Trench (played by Robert Pattinson). The film opens with a bang, as Will’s car skids out of control and into a river. An accident that leaves him partially paralyzed. Trapped in his car for twelve long years, he has grown accustomed to life with his head in a bucket. When he awakens from a coma, he finds that the world has changed around him — which is ironic, seeing as how he was the one who caused the accident in the first place.

What’s more is that his parents have moved into the neighborhood, and while he still considers them friends, he can’t exactly be happy to see them. His desire to live his life independently is nearly met with tragedy when his parents are murdered by an unknown assailant. After the police fail to capture the killer, Will sets out to solve the murder himself. His search leads him to a conspiracy that could bring down a powerful political figure.

Along the way, he meets a number of colorful characters who inhabit a world that has forever changed, and whose lives he now influences. In addition to his former boss, Carl Weston (played by Alec Baldwin), who seeks to make amends for the accident that left Will paralyzed, the film boasts an all-star cast including Michael Caine, Shirley MacLaine, Tracy Morgan, and more.

What makes The Rover truly unique among other films is its depiction of a dystopian future. The world that Pearce and his team have created is a dark, grim place that audiences may find difficult to leave the screen once the lights have gone down. In an early scene, Will awakens in the early hours of the morning and wanders the streets looking for a place to stay. He comes across a group of squatters who live in a dilapidated building with no power and no running water. As he surveys the scene outside his window, he notices a strange device on one of the desks, and reaches for it. In the next scene, he is working on a computer, attempting to load up a program when suddenly the lights go out and the machine crashes. Darkness overtakes the room, and the sound of rushing wind can be heard overhead as he stumbles about, trying to find a switch to restore the power.

The dark theme is something that the film’s co-director, Andrew Gurland, attests to, and it’s evident in every aspect of the production. From the script to the sound design to the costume choices, everything about The Rover exudes a sense of foreboding. Even the color palette, which is dominated by black and white, evokes a feeling of chill and unease. The atmosphere is one that director George Miller captured perfectly when he said, “Films should be able to make you feel something, and that is what this film does. It makes you feel uncomfortable, whether you want to admit it or not.”

The Film’s Impact

With films like The Rover, we are seeing an uptick in independent productions, and it’s great to see such a talented actor breaking new ground in this way. The film had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival in August 2017, and has since been picked up by a number of North American distribution companies. More importantly, the film had a profound effect on its audiences, with many in attendance tweeting about how scared they were throughout the experience. Even though the story is fiction, many noted that parts of it felt too realistic, and that they were not sure what would have happened if the camera had not cut away.

What’s more is that this effect was not limited to Western countries, with attendees from China, Russia, and other parts of Asia claiming that they, too, were genuinely disturbed by the film. China in particular seems to have taken a shine to The Rover, as there are already plans in place for a sequel. Clearly, this is a film that speaks to audiences. Whether it’s due to the compelling lead or the dark theme, The Rover is shaping up to be a major win for its director and producers.

What’s Next?

With The Rover, we can look forward to seeing more films by Guy Pearce, including the anticipated third installment of the trilogy. Fans of the actor may also want to look out for his other projects, such as Gangs of New York, on which he appears alongside Robert De Niro and Sean Astin; the upcoming Bumblebee with Hailee Steinfeld; and the Sundance Selects’ Man of Tai Chi, in which he plays a martial arts expert.

In the meantime, we can take comfort in knowing that, as great as Guy Pearce is, we can never truly know what path his life would have taken if he had not met William Holden. The truth is that without the success of his early career, there’s no way he would have been able to fund the production of The Rover. So, in a way, we owe it to William Holden to give thanks for the talent of Guy Pearce, and we should all be happy that he is finally stepping out of his golden shoes to play a character that he feels passionate about.