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By Clint Morris | October 10, 2002

Like a prize commodity compressed for redeployment, director Bill Bennett returns from his stab at conquering the U.S. with a flick that combines the best (and worst) of Australian Cinema. Taking our trophy stars, intermingle of humour and slice of life type-stories, Bennett’s “The Nugget” really wants to be the next “Castle” or The Dish, but unlike those films, you’ll be gutting into the core of this gem, scratching for anything of worth.
Inspired by the John Steinback novel, The Pearl, about a poor fisherman who finds a pearl, only to have his life dramatically changed under the circumstances, “The Nugget” takes essentially the same route, except it’s now three men who find the goods, and it’s the world’s biggest gold nugget they find – not a pearl.
When council workers, Lotto (Bana), Wookie (Curry) and Sue (O’Neil) stumble across a gold nugget in the mining fields – they expected only good to come from it. It’s going to be weeks before they can cash in the gold though, and not thinking first they start to book up goods on credit, ultimately living the high life. Meanwhile, local car-yard foe, Ratner (Moon) catches onto the fact that the boys have struck gold, and when their backs are turned, snatches it for his own advantage. Is this the end of the boy’s prize-found?
Bennett apparently wrote “The Nugget” in six weeks while waiting for finance to come though on a more lucrative deal in the states. The lack of time he spent tweaking his tale and brushing up its details really shows on the screen. Because unlike some of the great Australian comedies of the last few years, “The Nugget” isn’t really funny – it’s quite a fizzer actually, and you almost feel sorry for some of the cast as they work their way around some of the scantily written material.
The film does nothing for rising superstar Eric Bana, who comes off like he’s stuck in a reunion skit of TV’s “Full Frontal.” It could be that the material is just plain atrocious, or the fact that Bana’s done some much comedy, he can be nothing but over the top. Had this been his showreel for the states – and not Chopper – I’m strongly doubting the yanks would touch him with a six-foot pole. In addition, Bana’s co-stars Stephen Curry and comedian Dave O’Neil don’t fare much better. They might look the part – but like Bana, are trying too hard to squeeze jokes out of the most inane of gags.
The one person that comes out of “The Nugget” almost unscathed is Belinda Emmett. She mightn’t be the most appropriate person to play a downtrodden, lower class wife, but she’s definitely got screen presence, and given a better vehicle she might become something special. Her combined acting skills and observable beauty should take her far.
Although their names feature prominently on the credits, Jean Kitson, Chris Haywood and Jane Hall are almost non-existent in the flick. Obviously someone’s got a little too excited in the editing room.
While “The Nugget” means well, it’s merely riding on the coattails of archetypal Aussie hits before it – and unfortunately for Bennett he didn’t Xerox the pages of those other films that read “funny stuff”. Ultimately, it’ll only entice studios to stamp ‘overrated’ next to Bennett’s John Hancock.
“The Nugget” isn’t the worst Australian film you’ll see – it’s far from – but with all that great talent on board, one would hoped for something a little more valuable than a pleasant time-passer.
I won’t go so far to say I’ve seen shinier nuggets in my cat’s litter tray, but I will say there’s not a lot sparkling from this flick’s direction.

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