One of my age old dilemmas when writing a review is how much to weigh a strong central performance against the film itself. Does a great leasing turn outweigh a mediocre (or worse, or better, depending on the situation) movie? Or, does the flick itself get elevated by a performance, but never saved? Personally, I think it’s situation dependent, as both cases can be true. In the case of Gold, there’s a really good leading man performance, alongside a film that never quite gets into the kind of groove it needs to succeed. So, unfortunately here, I find myself just shy of a recommendation.
Gold has Zac Efron at his most dedicated and intense. Watching his commitment to the role is exciting, suggesting a very bright future for the underrated actor. The final product may not be on that level, but as a vehicle for Efron, it definitely works. It’s only when you factor in everything else that the flaws come to the surface.
Taking place in the near future, we first meet an unnamed drifter (Efron) as he’s traveling for work. Paired up with another man (Anthony Hayes) to drive through the desert, it’s initially a tense and uncomfortable ride. Then, in the midst of it all, they stumble across what just happens to be the biggest gold nugget ever found. Immediately, the two see dollar signs in their eyes. In short order, they hatch a plan, which of course seems simple but is anything but. The men need to excavate the gold, but until then, it must be protected. The second man leaves to get the right equipment, leaving the first man to defend the bounty.
As the other man waits, he struggles to endure the harsh desert climate, not to mention hungry wolves and other dangers. All the while, he has to deal with the doubts creeping in about that first man. Has he been abandoned? Can he survive? Truly, it will be life-threatening test. It all leads to an abrupt ending that will certainly prove divisive to those who see it.
Zac Efron has never shown this kind of intensity before. It’s truly one of his best performances, even if the character could use some more layers to it. Anthony Hayes does his job well, but he’s clearly deferring to Efron here. It’s a good choice, too, since he’s easily the best part of the film. Gold works when it’s focusing on Efron, but a little more meat on its bones would have been helpful. This is mostly a solo show (or a two-hander at times), but other cast members include Susie Porter.
Director and co-writer (not to mention co-star) Anthony Hayes is on to something here, even if he can’t fully pull it off. Along with his co-writer Polly Smyth, the premise is strong, not to mention the main casting. It’s just in giving his lead more to do that Hayes comes up a bit short. Had Gold been a little longer and had more depth to it, or a little shorter and just been an intense bite-sized movie, it would have made it to the finish line. Instead, it just misses.
Gold should intrigue Zac Efron fans, and rightly so. He’s very good here and almost single-handedly saves the film. With a little more from Hayes and company, this should have been a clear recommendation. It’s a tad short of that, but still something worth giving a shot to, especially if you dig Efron. Just keep your expectations in check here, or else you might be let down.