Director: Stephen Gaghan
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Edgar Ramírez, Bryce Dallas Howard, Corey Stoll, Craig T. Nelson, Stacy Keach, Bruce Greenwood
The term “McConaissance” arose as a way of acknowledging Matthew McConaughey’s career shift from standard rom-coms to heavier, more meaningful projects. He won an Oscar for Dallas Buyers Club and won praise for projects like HBO’s True Detective and The Wolf of Wall Street. Some may even claim he became a parody of himself and his “alright, alright, alright” image. I fear now he may be falling into that trap without realizing it himself. In his latest film, Gold, he plays gold prospector Kenny Wells. It’s 1988 and he has seen better days. He took over the family business after his dad (Nelson) died and now it’s tanking. He’s lost his house and now lives with girlfriend, Kay (Howard). He’s a heavy drinker, chain smoker, has the beer gut, and dons the greasy slicked back hair. He’s hit rock bottom and has a dream about digging for gold in Indonesia. He can’t shake this newfound calling and heads there to track down local gold expert and geologist Mike Acosta (Ramírez). Their hike through the jungle leads to a potential site for a gold mine.
Deals are made, contracts are signed, and they begin digging. Blood, sweat, tears, and a bout of malaria later and Kenny and Mike strike it big. Kenny starts his own corporation named Washoe Mining Corporation and becomes part of the New York Stock Exchange. Word of mouth spreads about Washoe and everyone wants in, including a New York based banker played by House of Cards star Corey Stoll. As we’ve seen before with these kinds of stories where greed and success come at very fast pace, all good things must come crashing down at some point.
When movies start with the phrase “inspired by true events”, I then realize that the movie is probably more fictionalized for dramatic purposes instead of following the true events of the story. Stephen Gaghan was the golden boy writer/director that came into the scene in the early 2000s with Traffic, Syriana, and Rules of Engagement. He practically disappeared from Hollywood after that hit run. Directing Gold probably won’t put him back in the zeitgeist. The film’s themes about being blinded by wealth are nothing new. We’ve seen this story countless times before, even recently with The Big Short, War Dogs, and The Wolf of Wall Street. Kenny and Mike’s wheelin’ and dealin’ ways prompt celebration well before the gold actually makes an appearance. I began to shake my head very early on as I knew darn well that this was not going to end well. I just knew this wasn’t going to be a movie about two guys who found gold and then donated it to charity. It was only a matter of time for these characters that seem to be riding high on fake and temporary success. It may or may not be fake for them, but as the audience, we see right passed it.
Screenwriters Patrick Massett and John Zinman both come from television backgrounds, which may have something to do with how much story they try to cram into two hours. The ups and downs of Kenny’s story make for one big rollercoaster ride that doesn’t even move at a brisk pace. At one point, it seemed like we had come to the end of Kenny’s story. His life was on the up and he had already gone through so much. I was ready for it to be over, but realized that I was only 70 minutes into a two-hour movie. What more was there to his story? There is more of the same over and over again. Gold wants to be a “rags to riches” story. Kenny came from a successful family but threw it all away. We see him chasing the American dream of coming from nothing, finding your calling in life, to becoming the most successful person in his field. It’s not that this story isn’t worth telling, but there’s nothing new in Gold to make it stand out from the other movies and true life stories I mentioned earlier.
I heard McConaughey mention in an interview that he had to play Kenny immediately after reading the script. He was “seeing him [Kenny] from the inside out.” There was an immediate understanding of this character for him. That may be the case, but I’m starting to feel like he’s driven by the same types of roles with similar motivations. He gives another one of his “transforming” types of performances where he lets his body and physical mannerisms go all over the place. I didn’t feel the restraint here that I felt with many of his recent performances. He’s trying really hard to be “acting” to the point where he’s now playing into the parody version of himself. That works fine for animated characters like in Kubo and the Two Strings, but it becomes very obvious in live action. The rest of the cast feels very underused and neutral compared to McConaughey. As Acosta, Edgar Ramírez is by far the quieter of the two. That may have been a directorial choice by Stephen Gaghan to counter McConaughey, but I was rarely drawn to his character with McConaughey always in focus. Bryce Dallas Howard plays Kenny’s girlfriend who’s a bit naïve and innocent to what’s going on around her. The role’s too simplistic for someone like Howard, and a lesser-known actress should have been utilized instead of wasting Howard’s time.
When a movie like Gold is loosely inspired by true events and still turns out to be a lackluster attempt at a wild story, you have to wonder what actually happened to the person Wells is based on. Was his story less crazy, less noteworthy? Gaghan, his screenwriters, and McConaughey are trying a little too hard to make an Oscar-worthy type of movie. The lack of a specific focus and originality makes Gold a wobbly mess.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? There are better movies with “gold” in the title, like Goldfinger, Goldmember, or Woman in Gold
RATING: 2 out of 5 TICKET STUBS