Gold (Stan) – movie review

A survival story, Gold is set in an inhospitable desert in a not-too-distant dystopian future. This dark and visceral tale of greed, obsession, murder and madness comes from Anthony Hayes, an actor who has experience in directing films with dramas such as Ten Empty to his credit. Hayes co-wrote the sparse and stripped back script with his partner Polly Smyth (a costume designer who has written her first script).

An unnamed man (played by Zac Efron) hops off a train in a small remote outpost, looking for a ride to a distant location known only as the Compound. His guide and driver is a similarly anonymous character (a gruff and taciturn Hayes). The pair set out across the desert, but there is an air of tension between the two. Radio news reports hint at strange events happening as society is breaking down.

But then their truck breaks down in the middle of nowhere. One of the men stumbles upon a massive gold nugget lodged in the ground. Unable to dislodge it, the guide suggests that one of them needs to drive to a town and return with excavation equipment while the other remains behind to guard the find.

Efron’s character is left to pass several days under the inescapable heat of the desert. He wilts in the oppressive heat and faces other dangers such as snakes, scorpions, dehydration, pack of ravenous wolves, and even a fierce sandstorm. He soon begins to worry that he has been abandoned and left to die alone in the desert.

The film was shot on location in South Australia, and cinematographer Ross Giardina (Before The Rain) effectively captures the harsh post-apocalyptic desert landscape, giving the material a bleak and ominous quality. He has shot mainly in a muted colour palette that adds to the bleak tone. This is a minimalist production, and Hayes directs with remarkable economy of style. He effectively shapes the sparse narrative and austere setting. Its overriding theme of greed and how the lure of gold can lead a man to desperation was wonderfully explored in John Huston’s Oscar winning classic The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

The film has a small cast, and none of the characters are actually named here – in the credits they are identified simply as “Man one”, etc. Efron is on screen the entire time and he effectively conveys his character’s psychological and physical deterioration with a largely silent and internalised performance. His usual good looks are hidden beneath a scruffy beard and, later, beneath some prosthetic makeup that recreates his badly blistered and scarred sunburnt visage. His gritty role here is about as far removed from the upbeat and more innocent nature of his earlier roles in films like High School Musical. Hayes has a strong physical presence and is quite menacing. Susie Porter acquits herself well in a dual role as an enigmatic desert dweller and as her equally mysterious sister.

Gold is streaming on Stan from 26 January 2022

Greg King

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