By the end of Gold, I was more concerned with star Matthew McConaughey’s choice to invest himself into the character of Kenny Wells than the story I was just told. Given how the film is loosely based on the Bre-X mining scandal from 1993, seeing McConaughey develop a gut and shave his head to create a balding effect was puzzling. Did this amount of effort ultimately make the character (who has a physical resemblance to no real life figure) more interesting thematically? I did not really think so, which speaks more to how unremarkable this film felt as a whole.
As noted, McConaughey stars as Kenny Wells, an unlucky businessman who teams up with geologist Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez) on a whim, in an effort to find gold in Indonesian jungles. It turns out to potentially be one of the biggest finds on record, suddenly turning Wells into a prospecting/business superstar. Of course, the allure of a literal golden enterprise, in addition to pride and ego, make things much more complicated.
Gold was directed by Stephen Gaghan, who made a name for himself after earning an Oscar for writing 2000’s Traffic and would go on to write and direct 2005’s Syriana. Gold is his first film since, but he only serves as a director here. Given some of Gaghan’s other credits, he is almost something of a journeyman filmmaker, but I can see why he’d attach himself to Gold. That said, the film lacks the measured assurance in process found in his other films. There is also a resistance to embracing the gonzo energy McConaughey puts into his role, which could have made this film play more in line with the similarly themed (to a point) Wolf of Wall Street.
The presentation is unique. For one thing, I can’t exactly name too many films about late 20th century prospectors. Blending the adventure element into a familiar story about an ambitious male businessman who risks it all and loses key relationships was something fairly fresh. Robert Elswit’s cinematography does well to capture both the jungle locations found, in addition to the 80s atmosphere applied to America., as Kenny makes his rounds in both his hometown and Manhattan.
As far as this cast goes, again, the film fails to really capture the level of energy that should be coming out of this story. McConaughey does shine and while Ramirez still seems to be missing an element in his roles since Carlos that made him an actor to watch, the two have a friendship form that works. The rest of the actors are all over the place. Bryce Dallas Howard gets to play the longtime girlfriend who can’t travel as far down the rabbit hole as Kenny, so she’s eventually cast aside and given obligatory drama scenes. Corey Stoll, Stacy Keach, Bruce Greenwood, Toby Kebbell, Bill Camp, Craig T. Nelson and others are all around, but do little beyond spout dialogue at each other and keep the story moving. This is the kind of movie that could have actually used a lot more mugging.
Keeping this in mind, the film does manage to be engaging in parts. The first act is a bit sluggish, but things get moving and build up a level of energy that works. This is the McConaughey show overall and almost every scene in this film features him doing everything he can to make this into both an adventure in business of sorts and a character study. Still, the depths of this film are not exactly on the level of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and one can’t help but feel like they know where things are headed.
While Gold has been in development for some time, passing to a number of directors including Michael Mann and Spike Lee, one can’t help but see some modern relevance in a film chronicling the sudden rise of a man promising many the gold find of a lifetime and ending up disappointing so many others, given various actions and a personality. Less related, but interesting is the heavy focus on Kenny’s constant drinking and smoking. This is done to a near uncomfortable degree that emphasizes the period setting, sure, but I guess the image at least sticks in one’s mind.
Gold ultimately feels inconsequential, as the film doesn’t go wild enough with its cast and the chance to really make something more overtly comedic, given the material. Not helping is the lack of any real edge beyond having some jungle settings, to really set the film apart from others that deal with similar ideas. McConaughey steals the show in his performance, but his commitment and sacrifices for the role only go so far. He’s not a fool for taking on the part, but this film is far from getting a gold star.