In 1993, a small-scale, penny stock company known as Bre-X was involved in the biggest gold mining scandal in history. After purchasing the rights to mine and excavate the deep jungle-region of Busang, Indonesia, Bre-X thought they had discovered literal tons of gold buried beneath the surface. Upon discovering gold samples, the result was a huge miscalculation based on rampant miscommunications and a lot of false information, which eventually led to hundreds of investors - which helped balloon the company's stock prices to over $280 a share - losing hundreds of millions of dollars.
The story is partly dramatized yet mostly lobotomized in Stephen Gaghan's Gold, a film that strangely sets the scandal in the mid-1980s and has Matthew McConaughey playing Kenny Wells, a businessman involved with Bre-X. The peculiar part is Kenny Wells didn't exist, as he's only very loosely based on Bre-X's CEO David Walsh, meaning McConaughey just decided to go all-out with his beer-gut and receding hairline, once again showing his massive dedication. His performance, while unbelievably convincing, is housed in a film that's so drearily uneven that it undermines the stakes and extravagance so inherent to the story itself.
Wells winds up teaming up with a Venezuelan geologist named Michael Acosta (Édgar Ramírez), who leads the excavation of the land in Indonesia while Wells runs the ship back home in Canada. A modern prospector following in the shoes of his father, Wells can't help but see himself as a failed businessman so late in his life, the same sort of midlife crisis Ray Kroc likely went through prior to his acquisition of McDonald's (as depicted in the new Michael Keaton film The Founder). With disillusionment comes a serious degree of desperation, which partly propels Mills getting too wrapped up in the gold business too quickly with no room for backtracking when things begin going south.
Matthew McConaughey, Edgar Ramírez, Bryce Dallas Howard
27 January 2017
Steve's Grade: C-
McConaughey throws himself into a contemptible, groveling chainsmoker with a reckless drive and a beer-gut akin to Charles Bukowski in his prime. His receding hairline, heavy eyes, and subtle weight gain tell us all we need to know about the character. He's exhausted as he himself has exhausted every possibility it seems to try and make a quick buck. Michael, on the other hand, is a similar kind of desperate, but patient and cautious enough to perhaps have seen the writing on the wall with their gold discovery had Mills been out of the picture.
The only downside to McConaughey's performance is that it's such a central focus that it hogs most of the scenes, completely overshadowing or minimizing the talent on display from the always-effective Bryce Dallas Howard, who is given far too little to do as Wells' girlfriend. She exists as an empty vessel, there to support her boyfriend's actions or be a victim of them, as is Ramírez in another gravely underwritten role.
Gold is very reminiscent of American Sniper or, more recently, Live by Night in the regards that the actual intriguing parts of the film, or the meat of the story, don't necessarily begin until about eighty or ninety minutes in. By then, I was long checked out in terms of trying to connect with the story or finding what to make of McConaughey's both incorrigible but somewhat understandable Wells character, yet the "fall" aspect of the story - unlike the "rise" - slowly dragged me back. This is mainly because the repercussions for Mills and his team of advisors is so grave, and the final thirty minutes of the film thrust the viewer into many situations that are both unpredictable and fairly entertaining. It's a surprising twist for a film that spent more than half of its runtime trying to find its footing.
Gold can't decide whether it wants to be a drama in the same vein as David O. Russel's American Hustle with its flashy aesthetic yet grounded narrative rooted in the portrayal of many successful, varied characters, or if it wants to be the kind of bombastic, amoral Mardi Gras that was War Dogs. It exists as a film with a great performance at its center with a terribly lopsided story that can't find a comfortable medium on which to tell itself. By the time it picks up steam, you simply want to get off the train.