Zac Efron I never thought would be on my radar as an actor. While he delivered some fun performances, and even was in a few shows I enjoyed, he never struck me as someone that would go that extra mile for a performance. At least until I saw Gold.
Written (with Polly Smyth), directed by, and starring Anthony Haynes, Gold is a small-scale film that deals with the end of civilization. Set in the near future, the story takes us to a nameless desert where there is talk about the potential for survival. With the rest of the world breaking down, the concept of a new life is tantalizing, even if it is in a brutal wasteland.
Following our nameless protagonist (Zac Efron), who arrives on the back of a freight train, we as the audience know little about this man, or what he is trying to find. What little information that is given is through the dialogue with the driver (Haynes) as they make their way to the ‘compound’ in search of work and a new future.
In the small details we get, Efron’s character is shown to be ill-equipped for the brutal wasteland he has found himself in. From the way he wastes precious water, to using the air conditioning without considering the consequences, he is shown as someone that is doomed the minute he decides to make this journey.
“Efron manages Gold almost single-handedly, giving a sense of his pain, moral dilemmas, and will to survive in a way I did not think possible.”
But as the pair stop on their drive to deal with a car issue, Efron stumbles upon a gold nugget the size of a small car, just sitting in the sand. This seems like the golden opportunity both these men need, but one of them needs to stay behind and protect the find as the other tries to find tools and equipment to dig the gold out, and this is when Efron finds himself alone in a brutal desert for days.
What follows is Efron showing how he can deliver a brutally painful performance, showing his struggles as he tries to stay alive in some of the harshest conditions he has ever encountered. From sandstorms, to the heat of the sun, it is quickly shown how in over his head he really is, and how with each passing day, the hope for survival is slipping through his fingers like the sand he is constantly covered in.
Efron manages Gold almost single-handedly, giving a sense of his pain, moral dilemmas, and will to survive in a way I did not think possible. He manages to elevate what is a relatively simple concept into something worth watching. Bringing the struggle to live in an oddly relatable and painful way that is captivating to witness.
It is even more disappointing that Gold never builds enough universe to make Efron’s struggle make sense. The world-building feels muddled, with inconsistent tones and no clear picture as to why a desert wasteland is a better place to live than what would be happening in the cities. It would have helped to give a better understanding of what has happened to the world, especially if you want to make gold a source of excitement when there is no clear idea of how money works or if that would really make a difference when everyone is struggling.
But gripes aside, Gold is an interesting effort that does some things that make it well worth a watch. Zac Efron shows he has range and seeing an actor that, at one point in his career, was all about looks now struggling as his body is slowly destroyed by the heat, elements and animals is something to behold. While it won’t be winning any Oscars, Gold put Efron back on my radar, and I am very excited to see what he does next.