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Flix at :48: Zac Efron stars in man vs. nature drama 'Gold'

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A movie poster for "Gold" in shades of gold and brown features a close-up of Zac Efron's face.

Movie star and men's fitness cover model Zac Efron seems to be leaning away from brighter fluffier material like "The Greatest Showman" (2017) and "Baywatch" (2017) for darker harsher material like "Firestarter," released earlier this year, and the Ted Bundy film from 2019, "Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile." His latest film, called "Gold," is another dark, grim story recently released on Hulu.

In the not-too-distance future, two strangers are driving through an endless landscape of empty, rocky desert cloaked in an ominous mood with hints of war, economic collapse and destruction. One of the men discover an enormous chunk of gold embedded in the ground, but it's too large to remove with their bare hands. So Zac Efron's character decides to remain in the desert alone to protect the gold and wait for his fellow traveler to return with the right digging equipment.

"Gold" is a sparse, quiet, austere drama firmly standing in the theme of naturalism. In this man vs. nature story, oppressive heat, wild dogs and a sandstorm slowly chip away at the man's determination to survive. This film reminded me of other survivalist adventures like "All is Lost" with Robert Redford (2013), "Arctic" with Mads Mikkelsen (2018) and even "The Old Man and the Sea" with Spencer Tracy (1958). Only six people appear on screen in "Gold," and the dialogue is rare.

Zac Efron does well playing a desperate man losing his grip on life and reality, but the film as a whole left me underwhelmed. Instead of a feast of physical and psychological crumbling, "Gold" feels like just an appetizer only touching on the dangers of the desert, the consequences of greed and the fear of possible hallucinations. Probably the most dangerous threat is trusting your life to a fellow human being who is simply out for themself. All of these elements are engaging, but there's not enough of them to keep the film fully interesting (except maybe the unforgiving forces of the desert environment). It reaches its potential to a point, but this film ended with me still wanting more.

It's far from the worst movie I've seen this year, but it's not the best either.

Casey T. Allen is a native of Utah who graduated from Utah State University with a Bachelor's degree in English in 2007. He has worked in many capacities throughout USU campus and enjoys his time at UPR to continually exercise his writing.