Starring Zac Efron, Anthony Hayes
Australian actor-turned-director Anthony Hayes has created a pocket-style thriller that features three actors, a speedy running time and little dialogue. Ultimately about the downfall of greed, “Gold” has Zac Efron in the leading role, uncomfortable and dirty as the essence of his performance.
As “Gold” introduces the audience into this not-so-distant future, the aesthetics of “Logan,” “Mad Max” or even “The Rover,” in which Hayes had a small role, abound. Making use of the harsh, desolate, Australian desert not just as a setting, the location is as much a character as anyone else. “Gold” wastes little time getting filthy, kicking things off with the worst squatty-potty on screen in a while. Hayes’ fable asks more of its audience than it delivers, which might leave some divided on that savage conclusion.
A young drifter (Efron) has abandoned hope elsewhere in the world, seeking opportunity from a flyer promising a financial life change in four months. He has hired a local man on the outskirts of the desert, to drive him toward this new life. The man explains to the drifter that the compound he seeks is nothing but slave labor, as the two make their weary journey into the desert. On a stop to allow the truck engine to cool, they discover an enormous gold rock. This life-changing discovery turns two strangers into partners who devise a plan. One will guard the find, while the other heads back into town for an excavator. The young drifter will face real and imagined dangers as the heat from the desert wanes on his sanity
The makeup and feel of the film is so intense you might want to apply sunscreen before watching, and have a bottle of water by your side.
The biggest criticism of Efron’s career is his inability to deliver a believable performance. The former “High School Musical” performer has struggled with dramatic roles or anything that doesn’t rely solely on his looks or physique. Efron is a curious choice here, but his performance mostly functions as a game piece to move the plot around this moral chess board. Efron’s external acting consists of wincing, scowling and ignoring constant flies buzzing around his sunburnt face — or are those digitally added? The makeup and feel of the film is so intense you might want to apply sunscreen before watching, and have a bottle of water by your side.
The short running time is a real asset because this thriller doesn’t offer much beyond Efron wandering around in the desert trying to stay hydrated and sane. The more delusional the desert makes his character, the more disturbing the imagery becomes, giving the audience a sense of fear or dread. Even still, this thriller is on the skinny side when it comes to the type of thrills typically associated with movies set in the Australian desert. Characters get no names, leaving us empathetic to their choices. Hayes’ direction is insightful on a shoestring budget, but without Efron headlining, “Gold” likely wouldn’t have been greenlit. If you compare “Gold’s” version of greed to, say, “House of Gucci,” the punishment here is far more severe, to the point it belittles Hayes’ script.
Slightly more than a one-man fable, Gold offers barebones thrills as Efron grimaces his way through a dehydrated plot.