Review: ‘Gold’ (2022), starring Zac Efron

April 22, 2022

by Carla Hay

Zac Efron in “Gold” (Photo courtesy of Screen Media Films)

“Gold” (2022)

Directed by Anthony Hayes

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed location, the dramatic film “Gold” features a nearly all-white cast characters (with a few Aborigines who make brief appearances) representing the working-class.

Culture Clash: Two men find a gold treasure in the desert, and one of the men leaves to find an excavator that can get the gold out of the ground, while the other man stays behind to guard the gold, and he encounters some dangerous situations. 

Culture Audience: “Gold” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Zac Efron and anyone who is interested in watching a well-acted survivalist story, despite not having much of a plot.

Anthony Hayes and Zac Efron in “Gold” (Photo courtesy of Screen Media Films)

Gritty and minimalist, “Gold” is a desert survival story with an ending that could’ve been better, but the movie’s lead performance by Zac Efron is compelling enough to maintain viewer interest. “Gold” is not the movie for you if you want all suspenseful movies to have a lot of dialogue. Most of “Gold” shows Efron’s unnamed character alone in the desert, with no talking in long stretches of the movie.

“Gold” isn’t a movie like Tom Hanks’ 2000 film “Cast Away,” where Hanks’ character was stranded on a deserted island and talked a lot to himself and a wilted volleyball that he called Wilson. “Gold” is as dirty and dusty as the landscape where Efron’s character is stuck for most of the movie with no transportation. He’s waiting for a new acquaintance (played by Anthony Hayes), who also has no name in the movie, who has driven them both there and has taken his car to get help.

Why do they need help? The two men have found a massive, boulder-sized chunk of gold in the desert, but it’s too heavy and embedded to dislodge from the ground with their bare hands. Tying it to car with a rope didn’t work either. They need serious excavation equipment. Hayes directed “Gold” from a screenplay that he co-wrote with Polly Smyth.

How did these two strangers end up meeting? The beginning of “Gold” shows Efron’s character (listed as Man One in the film’s credits) boarding a cargo train, because he’s on his way to an outpost to get a ride to a compound, where he hopes to get an unspecified job involving physical labor. This character is a loner who gives the impression that he’s down on his luck and needs this job, which he calls a “once in a lifetime opportunity.” Hayes’ character (who is called Man Two in the film’s credits) is tasked with giving Man One a ride to this compound in Man Two’s truck.

“Gold” was filmed on location in South Australia, although the movie never comes right out and says where the movie takes place. Hayes (who is Australian in real life) has an American accent in the movie, while Efron keeps his natural American accent. When Efron’s character is on the cargo train, he briefly encounters an Aborigine woman (played by Akuol Ngot) and her infant child (played by Thiik Biar), which is the only real clue that this movie was filmed Down Under.

The time period in which “Gold” takes place is also not explicitly stated, although the movie’s production notes say that “Gold” is supposed to take place in the “not too distant future.” There are big indications that it’s in a post-apocalyptic era, because there are mentions of a disaster that has caused factions of people in the land to fight each other for food, water and other resources. In this land, there are pay phones and mobile phones, but the mobile phones look like walkie talkies.

When Man One is stranded out in the desert, his only form of communication is a mobile phone, but the movie never explains how Man One can use the phone without any phone towers or WiFi service. That’s why “Gold” has a somewhat sci-fi otherworldly tone to it, although it’s implied that everything in the movie is happening somewhere on Earth. “Gold” was deliberately filmed to take place in an unspecified decade, although the mention of automobiles using gas still ties it to a period of time when most cars needed gas to operate.

Man One and Man Two have to travel through the desert to get to the compound. And the most predictable thing in a road trip movie happens in “Gold”: The travelers have car trouble. In this case, it’s a flat tire, which Man Two changes with a spare tire.

While staying overnight in the desert, the two men have a conversation around a campfire. Man One gives a little more information about himself. He says he’s from the west (whatever that means), while Man Two comments that “people are turning on each other.” The driver also says that there’s a “mass exodus down south” and that “pretty soon, hordes of people will be coming this way.”

Man One shows Man Two a flyer for the compound that lured Man One into starting a new life there. The flyer says, “In just four months, you’ll be a changed man. Work at the compound.” Man Two scoffs at the flyer and tells Man One that he will be a “target” at the compound because of his “puppy-dog eyes and right nature.”

But is this man who’s determined to change his life at the compound so gullible and innocent as the other man thinks he is? Man One says of any trouble he might find at the compound, “I can handle it.” Man Two says skeptically, “I’m sure you can.”

It isn’t long before the two men find the gold that completely changes the original intention of their trip. The gold is too heavy to take out of the ground. A decision is made that one of the men will go find an excavator with the equipment and transportation to be able to lift the gold. The other man will stay behind and guard the gold.

Both men debate over who should be the one to leave and who should stay. At first, Man Two insists that he should be the one to stay because he thinks he’s more experienced at handling the dangers of this desert. However, Man One stands firm in saying that he should be the one to stay because Man Two has the personal connections to get the excavator they need quicker than Man One, who doesn’t know anyone who can help them.

The rest of “Gold” shows what happens when Man One is left behind to guard the gold. There are the expected problems with wild animals, harsh desert weather and the very real possibility of dying of dehydration. Man One has a supply of water in the beginning, but it should come as no surprise when that water supply is compromised. And there’s always the underlying question: Who can really be trusted among the people who find out about this gold treasure?

Perhaps the biggest threat that Man One encounters is with any other human being whose intentions are not clear and could be a possible attacker. As shown in the trailer for “Gold,” this potential threat happens in the last third of the movie when a mysterious woman with an Irish accent (played by Susie Porter) shows up and starts asking Man One a lot of questions in a suspicious manner. It’s here where “Gold” becomes more of a tension-filled thriller.

“Gold” is a fairly simple story, but it shows impactfully how greed and survival can be intertwined and can affect each other in ways that aren’t always healthy. Efron, who gets the vast majority of screen time in “Gold,” gives an obviously physically challenging performance, but he also brings some depth to the psychological transformation his character undergoes during the course of the story. The pacing of “Gold” might be too slow for viewers who are expecting more of an action-adventure film instead of an introspective character study.

The movie invites viewers to think about how priorities can shift when it comes to the lengths that people will go to for “get rich quick” schemes. It shows that wealth can make people even more of a target of crime, danger and other bad intentions, and thereby fuel paranoia and mistrust. Although some viewers might not like the final minute in the last scene of “Gold,” it leaves viewers to ponder if what these characters do in the movie was really worth it in the end.

Screen Media Films released “Gold” in select U.S. cinemas on March 11, 2022. The movie is set for release on Blu-ray and DVD on June 14, 2022.

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