When two men discover the biggest gold nugget ever found they must find a way to excavate it.

Editing: Sean Lahiff
Antony Partos

Cast:  Zac Efron, Anthony Hayes, Susie Porter

Directors: Anthony Hayes
Writers: Anthony Hayes, Polly Smyth
Cinematography: Ross Giardina

Somewhere in the near future, in a place that may or may not be Australia, a man arrives in search of a job. Wherever this location is, it’s a barren landscape with little to see in the distance other than heatwaves bouncing off rock surfaces, sand at the ground and the minute droplets of sweat the Man is wasting onto the ground each second. His face is scarred; he brings nothing but a pamphlet advertising the ominous-sounding ‘Compound,’ although they promise to pay well. 

In Anthony Hayes second feature, Gold, the world is harsh, unforgiving and full of questions. It’s that brink of the edge of tomorrow where it feels like the collapse of an environmental disaster. But it doesn’t feel too far into the future. It’s a location Australian films love to play with, even more so when you add in themes of hopelessness, greed and the dark side of human nature. 

Zac Efron plays the lead, Man , and it’s as worn and beaten as he’s ever been on film. It’s a performance that certainly shows a new side to the one-time teen sensation that has since transitioned into comedy films like Bad Neighbours. I’m reminded of Robert Pattinson’s adventures into the Australian outback in 2014’s The Rover, just a year after the final Twilight film was released. 

Gold plays on familiar themes, and the story isn’t at complicated. Efron’s character is en-route to The Compound with another man, Man , played by Anthony Hayes when he discovers a massive gold nugget on the side of the road. They attempt to remove it before leaving Man watching the rock, while Man takes a several day trip to find an excavator.

“I can handle it,” Efron’s character repeats to himself, and it’s also what he tells Hayes character as he sets off to leave. But things soon go wrong for Man , watching the gold as both water and food diminish, his sanity and decision making is tested. And when a lone stranger played by a highly unrecognisable Susie Porter shows up, the effort to protect the gold is pushed even further.

The film is a bleak slow-burn that managed to hold my attention thanks to the less-is-more performance of Efron. Instead of a screaming mess that some directors and performers may have taken this role, Efron lets his naive dead eyes do all the talking. You know how the film is going to end long before the credits roll, and there’s a clear moment when Man decides that protecting this gold is worth more than his life. There isn’t much to the characters in Gold as what would lead Man to feel this way is never explained or even flirted with; instead, the film commits to the idea that it doesn’t matter. It’s almost a nihilistic view, deservingly, of humanity. 

Cinematographer Ross Giardina captures the South Australian Outback and Zac Efron in all the gruelling detail needed to make this almost one-location, one-person stage-play more than just a dusty struggle in the desert. The way Efron can convey his fears and despair in as little as possible is thanks to the direction of Hayes and the work on Giardina

Gold is a bit too much of a slow burn, and the helpless tone isn’t going to be for everyone. With a tighter script, the thrills would have held me through a bit better. However, stories like this never get old because it’s like looking into a mirror. Gold is also a showcase for a new side of Zac Efron that should hopefully elevate or take his career in new and interesting directions.