Gold (2022)

Release: Friday, March 11, 2022 (limited) 

👀 Hulu

Written by: Anthony Hayes; Polly Smyth

Directed by: Anthony Hayes

Starring: Zac Efron; Anthony Hayes; Susie Porter

Distributor: Screen Media Films





Over the last few years, former Disney Channel star Zac Efron has been making some interesting moves, turning away from the eye candy roles that came to define him as a younger actor and embracing heavier dramatic material. His turn as Ted Bundy in 2019’s Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile proved he was eager to move beyond typecast and I’m not sure if there’s a more direct route to doing so than by playing a serial killer.

Indeed, if it were only the atrocity of Bundy that Efron had tapped into, maybe it would be easy to dismiss as gimmick — a desperate act of overcompensation. But when he commits himself in the way that he does in Gold, a viciously realistic survival thriller from Aussie director, writer and co-star Anthony Hayes, suddenly the days of High School Musical seem like prehistory. This is Efron operating on another level, evoking desperation and greed to stomach-churning effect. Sure, he benefits from Beth Halsted’s stunning make-up work, but he essentially holds the entire movie on his own and that’s no small feat.

Set sometime in the near future, Gold keeps the audience in the dark as far as the big picture is concerned. The script (by Hayes and his partner Polly Smyth) is as minimalist as the stripped-out coal mine that has become of the world. We’re post-apocalypse but we don’t know what caused humanity to be brought to its knees. A man named Virgil (Efron) train-hops his way to a remote outpost in the sprawling desert. Here he’s to catch a ride with another man, Keith (played in a gruff and world-weary manner by Hayes) who will take him to a mysterious place called The Compound, where Virgil hopes to find some stability doing hard labor. (Yeah, this movie is grim — imagine that for a happy ending.)

As the pair make their way in Keith’s weather-beaten truck we get drip fed little bits of their past and their musings on what is happening elsewhere. Not much is revealed, just enough to get an idea Virgil may be carrying around a little too much sensitivity in this place, while Keith appears/sounds the genuine article as a frontiersman. But the proof will be in the suffering when the pair make the incredible discovery of a massive chunk of gold and hatch a plan to extract it. Too big to move by hand or even truck, Virgil insists he stay behind to guard their riches while Keith will head back to get an excavator, a round trip of about five days or so.

Fine if you’re staying at the Ritz-Carlton, not so much if you’re hitching yourself to a lone, sun-parched tree with minimal food and water supplies. At least he has a satellite phone? High winds, reptiles, wild dogs — these are some of the amenities Virgil gets to enjoy as he goes full Aron Ralston in 127 even more desperate hours, squaring off against dehydration, starvation and paranoia as each passing sun and moon adds to the feeling of abandonment. It’s a startlingly authentic portrayal from Efron, who is a strong reason to see yet another movie titled Gold.

Though filmed in the Flinders Ranges of the Outback the movie is shot tightly, with a raw intimacy that never allows you to get comfortable. As director, Hayes uses the crunch of COVID-era restrictions to fashion a harrowing tale of obsession and survival where space is put to use in ways both creative and cruel. As screenwriter, his judgment of time elapsing is one of the most powerful driving forces, with a variety of cuts to Efron’s façade depicting a man utterly wasting away in the elements.

Gold is undeniably a familiar yarn, one where a carefully curated song at the end spells out the lesson learned in big letters. When a scavenger (played with sinister intent by Susie Porter) appears on the scene, the haggard signposting of where things go are as obvious as the glinting jewel. Still, the heaviness with which certain developments land is not to be discounted. Dismissing the saga as overly familiar does a disservice to the intensity and authenticity of the experience.

Gnarly and visceral, Gold is entertaining in that morbidly fascinating way movies about the corruptive power of wealth often are — it’s not full-blown Shadenfreude, but at some point sympathy drops away and yields to pity. Even with sparse personality, the technical aspects make everything feel real and hard to look away from, even when you want to.

5G coverage, my ass

Moral of the Story: 127 Hours meets The Treasure of the Sierra Madre meets The Martian (the latter, in a more painfully specific way I guess). Harsh and pretty conservative in terms of action, Gold won’t be everyone’s idea of a fun Saturday night but for those looking for proof of Zac Efron’s talent, look no further. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 91 mins.

Quoted: “I can handle it.”

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The Franco Files — #1


It’s been a new year for a little while now, but it’s been even longer since I’ve introduced a new concept/feature to this humble little pet project of mine.

Dudes and dudettes, I have to say I’ve waited long enough to unveil this idea, and after sitting on this for awhile I think it’s time to allow this guy to stretch his legs. I present to you fine folks, THE FRANCO FILES, a monthly feature in which I will break down a certain performance from one of my favorite actors, Mr. James Franco and detail his impact in the film he takes part in. I haven’t yet decided whether or not to expand this feature to other actors later, although that is entirely possible. For now, it will remain relative to the work of James Franco, whether it is a lead role or a contributing supporting role; however major or minor, if his name is billed, it counts.

My hope is that, through this extended feature, I bring some attention to just how exactly a single performer can influence a film, as well as turn a spotlight on the nuances of this particular actor’s entire body of work. I hope you enjoy.


Francophile #1: Aron Ralston, 127 Hours

Role Type: Lead

Genre: Biographical drama/Biopic

Character Profile: Mr. Franco plays 27-year-old Aron Ralston, an outdoor enthusiast from Colorado (born in Ohio). This is no ordinary adventurer, however, when in 2003, Ralston found himself trapped in a narrow section of canyon in the remote regions of southeastern Utah after dislodging a boulder and getting his right hand pinned between it and the canyon wall. In an improbable fight for survival, Franco is tasked with conveying the long descent into panic and despair as he exhausts all options for escape over a five day period. Given Ralston’s experience outdoors, and an incredible ability to think rationally and strategically, Franco has been presented quite the challenge in managing emotional extremes, especially since overdoing any given emotion could ruin the film’s startling realism. To his credit, overacting in this situation could be an easy mistake to make, and yet he handles the job with grace and dignity. His Aron Ralston is one of the actor’s very best performances.

If you lose Franco, the film loses: It’s heart. There is no doubt that 127 Hours is Franco’s film. It is impossible to think of this movie without picturing his many facial expressions and playful mannerisms, even before things get serious. Since the film’s debut in 2010, despite his many other film appearances, it’s also equally difficult separating the actor from this experience. Strong direction from Danny Boyle certainly helps elevate the drama,  but the bulk of this emotionally draining experience rests upon the former Freaks & Geeks star’s shoulders.

Out of Character: “When Danny told me how he wanted me to approach this film and this role, I listened to him. He wanted me to meet with him extensively beforehand, learn everything I could from Aron. But when we shot, it would be more of a performance from the inside-out. He would put me through certain paces so that I would have my own experience, so that I wasn’t trying to slavishly recreate all the nuances of Aron’s behavior, but instead he would put me in situations that were close enough to Aron’s — short of me cutting my own arm off — so that, yeah I would have my own experience. So in that sense, maybe you do get a lot of me. He was very interested in a comedic side to this role. It was very important to balance out the intensity of some of the material and to get the audience on board with the character early on.”

Rate the Performance (relative to his other work):


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