Gold (2016)

Prove ‘em all wrong

Loosely based on the outrageous Bre-X mining scandal of ’93, Gold follows your archetypal tale of capitalism, greed and over indulgence, one that’s been mined for all its worth by several of Hollywood’s hottest directors — think Martin Scorsese and David O. Russell. The latest to tackle the rags-to-riches yarn is none other than filmmaker Stephen Gaghan; the guy who brought us the acclaimed 2005 hit Syriana. Although stamped with an ‘inspired by actual events’ tag, Gold plays out like a gold-plated version of the truth rather than the real deal (it’s shinny on the outside and very easy to look at), the whole thing so over-the-top and zany that its ‘true story’ label bares something of a resemblance to fools gold.

Fame and fortune are only just a phone call away ...
Fame and fortune are only just a phone call away …

Set in 1988, Gold tells the story of Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey), a balding, pot-bellied, chain-smoking prospector who’s trying desperately hard to keep his father’s company, Washoe Mining, afloat. With golden girl Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard) by his side, Kenny is working tirelessly to restore his dad’s dwindling legacy, hoping to, one day, hit the jackpot. Everything changes when Kenny meets legendary geologist Michael ‘river walker’ Acosta (Édgar Ramírez), who convinces him that Indonesia is where the next big ‘find’ will be. Waging everything on a simple hunch, Kenny heads over to the tropical Borneo jungle with his new partner, Acosta, to dig for gold. After battling Mother Nature, financial hiccups and malaria (which almost kills Kenny), the pair discovers one of the largest gold deposits in history, putting Washoe Mining back on the map. While making big plans for the company, shady politicians, greedy investment bankers and even the Indonesian government begin to interfere in Kenny’s affairs, each trying to get a cut of the newfound ‘money pit.’

Presenting a fictionalized account of David Walsh’s Bre-X Minerals Ltd. scandal, screenwriters Patrick Massett and John Zinman, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001), plot events as if checking them off some kind of rise-and-fall story template — we have the patient and long-suffering gal pal, a handful of shots that see folk cheering by their monitors or drinking champagne and smoking cigars, and an odd wraparound that features probing FBI agents. Alas, we know where Gold is going almost every step of the way, and that’s because we’ve seen it all before. There are, however, some superfluous detours, the main involving the president of Indonesia and his disgraced son Danny Suharto (Jirayu Tantrakul), thrown in solely to get Wells face-to-face with a tiger, the screenplay mixing light-hearted adventure and talk-y business dealings with much darker character behaviors, the tone a little muddled. The flick, at least, ends on a positive note with a cheeky final twist that will no doubt have optimists grinning in their seats.

'There's gold in them hills!'
‘There’s gold in them hills!’

At the center of it all is Matthew McConaughey who’s undergone a grotesque physical transformation for the role of the grimy Kenny Wells. Sporting a bald head and a snaggletooth, and gaining 40 lbs via a diet of beer, cheeseburgers, and milkshakes, McConaughey steals the show, even if his theatrics do lack the charm of say, The Wolf of Wall Street’s Jordan Belfort (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), or the complexity of his more grounded character work from Dallas Buyers Club (2013) or The Lincoln Lawyer (2011). Heck, I could also go so far as to say that his radical appearance is, at times, down right distracting. Just on that, it often feels as though filmmakers aren’t quite sure how to depict Kenny, he’s ugly on the outside (no offense to plump, balding men), gets drunk and sometimes even mistreats his wife, yet he’s not entirely consumed by greed — never getting involved in anything sketchy — and is also shown making sacrifices for Kay. It’s a strange one!

Playing alongside the boisterous McConaughey, Édgar Ramírez, Point Break (2015), is rather bland as Kenny’s partner Michael Acosta, the Venezuelan actor delivering a by-the-numbers portrayal of the enigmatic geologist. The rest of the support players are actually pretty rock solid. Corey Stoll, Ant-Man (2015), is quite good as the savvy Wall Street banker Bryan Woolf, who views Kenny as an uneducated halfwit, Woolf concocting his own scheme to maximize Washoe’s gold find, while Toby Kebbell, Warcraft (2016), fits the part of FBI Agent Jennings to a tee, his unrelenting interrogation prompting the movie’s narrative. Bryce Dallas Howard, Jurassic World (2015), is wonderful as Kay, even if she’s woefully wasted in the token girlfriend role (God knows how she could fall for such a downtrodden slob like Kenny), whilst Australian actress Rachael Taylor, Red Dog (2011), has a pretty thankless bit part as a blonde stockbroker, Rachel Hill, whose only function is to seduce our oiled up protagonist — both women copping the most underwritten characters in the flick. Last but not least, Bruce Greenwood, Star Trek (2009), has a small role as Mark Hancock, the richest mining mogul in the world.

Gold Dust Woman
Gold Dust Woman

Sporting an authentic ’80s production design by Maria Djurkovic, The Imitation Game (2014), and some sleek photography by Robert Elswit, There Will Be Blood (2007), Gold looks nice and polished on the outside, it’s just a shame that we’ve effectively seen everything this 24-karat nugget has to offer. Attempting to explore themes of gluttony, delusion, betrayal and desperation (amongst other things), Gold is competent enough, even if the shiniest thing on show is Matthew McConaughey’s glistening forehead.

3 / 5 – Good

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

Gold is released through Studio Canal Australia