Made-in-Oz thriller starring Zac Efron grips you by the throat

15

GOLD
Rated M, 96 minutes

Zac Efron in Gold.

Zac Efron in Gold.Credit:Stan

Who doesn’t love a nasty genre thriller where a man in the desert has to fend off wild dogs that want to tear out his liver? Especially when that man is played by American pretty-boy Zac Efron, sitting on top of a great immovable lump of gold. Delicious.

The movie was shot in northern South Australia around Leigh Creek, but signs in Arabic suggest we’re somewhere in the ’stans, after an apocalyptic event. Efron, as a man with no name, limps into some rathole, going east. Anthony Hayes, also never named, arrives to ferry him to a mining camp. After a couple of days, Efron finds a lump of gold sticking out of the desert – just like that. It’s too big to move. One must stay and guard, while the other goes for an excavator.

It’s a classic set-up, in a script co-written by Hayes and his partner, Polly Smyth. I kept thinking of Treasure of the Sierra Madre and “we don’ need no stinkin’ badges”.

Hayes gives us no backstory, no details that might count as exposition. This is hell and they have found a way to heaven, if they can outlast the scorpions, dogs, thirst and their own greedy instincts. Susie Porter plays a third character: less said about her role, the better. Porter is excellent as always.

Why not set it in Australia? Hayes, acting and directing, adopts a fairly ordinary southern drawl that does not help his character’s credibility. If he had stuck to his own tongue the film would have been stronger, although it’s largely Efron’s picture. He occupies the screen alone, beneath caked desert dirt, for most of the length. It’s easy to see the attraction – it’s an actor’s dream. He does a workmanlike if slightly self-conscious job.

One problem might be that this Yank is dumber than a box of rocks in this environment, wasting water and doing things he was specifically told not to do – but that’s how genre works. “If you go down there, you will die”, so character sets off down there. That’s also part of the pleasure of genre: we can explore human stupidity from a safe distance and work out what we would have done.