Not even a determined McConaughey can make this real life drama about the hunt for gold sparkle.
If there’s been one consistently fertile device for screenwriters over these past few decades, whether telling fictional tales or true, it’s the 'pursuit of the American Dream at all costs’ plot line. Just recently, both American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street showcased the extraordinary true stories of money-hungry shysters determined to rise above their humble or inauspicious beginnings (no matter the means or consequences), whilst Margin Call and The Big Short offered similarly bleak analyses of the more legitimate (if also morally bankrupt) means of attaining such ‘success’.
In the context of these films, then, Gold, by writer-director Stephen Gaghan (Syriana), falls somewhere in between. Based on the real life events of the 1990s Bre-X Minerals fiasco, it chronicles the rise and fall of a simple American prospector turned overnight millionaire named Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey). Balding, overweight and down to his last dime, Kenny’s a third generation mining prospector staving off foreclosure of his family business; a predicament that renders him more than willing to embrace all that wealth and power can provide once they offer themselves up to him.
Where Gold departs from the norm, at least notionally, is that from the very beginning through to the final frames, Kenny maintains his drive and determination were only ever grounded in the discovery of gold itself, not the money it provided. Gold hence finds itself in the peculiar position of framing the story as one of ‘us versus them’ in which both the us (simple prospectors) and them (hedge fund managers and mining companies) are ludicrously wealthy, and where money itself is not the point of distinction but rather how that money was acquired: 'dirt in the nails grit' versus 'manhattan investment', so to speak.
In the lead, McConaughey delivers another committed and captivating performance; one for which he gained a full 18kgs to ensure his sizeable beer gut required neither special effects nor prosthetics. Gripped by a fever determined to kill him and grappling with a hail mary mining prospect in the jungles of Indonesia that refuses to yield even a hint of gilded hope, McConaughey’s performance oozes doggedness and desperation in equal measures. Opposite him, Édgar Ramírez puts in a far more reserved turn as Wells’s geologist and business partner Michael Acosta, and together they make a likeable duo, making it a crying shame how little of the film Ramírez actually occupies.
In all, Gold feels like a story unsure of how best to be told, flicking between Scorsese-esque drama and quirky irreverence more aligned with Adam McKay’s The Big Short. None of the characters feel entirely fleshed out, instead presented more like passengers on a plot line that prioritises events over the people who actually inhabited them. The movie’s eventual ‘twist’ (an altogether curious handle given its non-fictional status) is legitimately surprising to those unfamiliar with Bre-X story, however its reveal so close to the end renders the remaining few minutes far too rushed to sufficiently deal with its impact and implications. 9 times out of 10, Matthew McConaughey could singlehandedly transform an infomercial into a gripping short film, but in this case even he’s not capable of lifting Gold above anything more than a mildly engaging drama.