In The Nugget, three laconic council workers (Eric Bana, Stephen Curry and Dave O’Neil) stumble across an enormous gold nugget.The starting point for writer-director Bill Bennett (Kiss or Kill) was Steinbeck’s The Pearl, about a peasant fisherman whose discovery of a valuable pearl brings disaster to his family. But the story of three prospectors afflicted with gold fever can’t help but recall John Huston’s masterly The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Bogey’s avaricious madness. The comparison is not illuminative; these three blokes are too laid-back to get worked up about anything.
Bennett’s made a modest, amiable comedy with a dash of magic realism (Max Cullen as a grizzly, omniscient narrator). It coasts along on the smooth rapport of the three men and their wives (Belinda Emmett, Sallyanne Ryan, Karen Pang). The relaxed charisma of Eric Bana is a big bonus.
As a fable, The Nugget offers only the thinnest and most obvious of lessons. There’s a near-fatal lack of urgency; the three mates are a close-knit bunch, unlikely to disintegrate, and the villains are too over-the-top to pose a realistic threat. “Wacky” breakfast radio announcer Peter Moon is the greedy owner of a car wrecking yard and the normally reliable Vince Colosimo is an unlikely Eastern European entrepreneur, dripping in chains, who runs the local brothel.It’s best to sit back, enjoy the occasional good-natured laugh and take in the scenery. Bennett filmed in Mudgee, and cinematographer Danny Ruhlmann bathes the picturesque town in a golden glow.