Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Edgar Ramirez, Bryce Dallas Howard
Director: Stephen Gaghan
Running Time: 121 mins
Synopsis: Kenny Wells (McConaughey) is a Gold prospector after a lucky break. His business going down the tube, he makes one last ditch attempt to hit it big. Travelling to Indonesia, he joins forces with Michael Acosta (Ramirez) and come upon one of the largest finds ever discovered. However earning big bucks and gaining popularity do not make happiness, Quelle Surprise!!
Calling this film Gold is a bit of a misnomer. Gold elicits thoughts of endless riches, bright colours and the mark of something that is nothing but high quality. The film that shares its name is sadly anything but. Stephen Gaghan’s return to directing, after a 12 year hiatus, shares nothing of the complexity, the depth and the thrills of Syriana. That Oscar nominated George Clooney being tortured via fingernail removal film was an treasure trove of captivating drama. In his break though Gaghan seems to have lost that singular voice in favour of a Scorsese-aping subpar effort that is merely skin deep.
A jarring opening doesn’t help matters. Matthew McConaughey narrates in a Wolf of Wall Street style, one of many weaker references to that vastly superior film, as we dive head first into his world of Gold prospecting. Or to be more exact his father’s world, seeing as he is the man responsible for creating the company of which McConaughey’s Kenny Wells plays but a minor cog in. His father is soon killed off (you betcha daddy issues play a big part later on) and we lurch forward to the company having been run into the ground by Kenny, and now forced to site its remaining staff in a local dive bar. The only saving grace is Bryce Dallas Howard’s Kay, a perma-haired lovable girl who has nothing but affection for Kenny, despite the inherent selfishness at his core. Howard is a winnable presence as always, playful, sexy and riddled with the need to just be loved. The riches they later possess mean nothing without the man by her side.
After a delirious dream involving Indonesia, gold and success, he irresponsibly heads off to the Far East in search of this far flung notion of greatness. Meeting up with Edgar Ramirez’s Michael Acosta, a rugged fedora wearing prospector of old. Unlike the suits back in Kenny’s company, Acosta has his hands soaked in the dirt and sweat that true gold searching requires. Ramirez is solid here, but offers little more than handsome window dressing, the script offering little under the trunk. As they battle malaria, a team revolt and the extreme weather it seems like a stroke of luck when it appears local tests show the rocks they’ve broken up contain the elusive substance. Soon it’s back to America, money flowing, parties starting and the inevitable egotistical self-sabotage signposted a mile away.
Matthew McConaughey is always an entertaining watch, but here something just feels off. Pot bellied, balding and repeatedly seen in nothing but white briefs it is certainly a large performance. However there is a severe lack of three-dimensions at play. Daddy issues, male ego and money lust factor in but alas there is nothing to really stick your teeth into. McConaughey seems to think that a physical transformation is enough to make a character but here the writing is so thin that all we have left is those last few hairs that rise up over his clear head. As you can guess once the money flows and the women start poring over him, the tensions flag at Kenny and Kay’s relationship. In its place comes a strange bromance between Kenny and Acosta, although this lacks bite with Ramirez spending far too much time off screen to build a believable bond betwixt them.
There are setbacks and schemes (one involves McConaughey having to touch a tiger, a film highpoint) but it is an unexpected third act twist that finally gives the film some life. Up to this point it moves at a fair pace but feels subdued when it should be on fire. Most of the party scenes could have done with the Caligula style madness Scorsese brought to Wolf, but instead are just a series of guys in suits drinking at bars, oh and Rachel Taylor with her kit off-a painfully thin bimbo character. This twist sets us on the home stretch involving an FBI probe, of which their meeting with Kenny is laced throughout the film with all the dexterity of a armless guy playing snooker, and a familiar realisation that money cannot bring happiness.
Therein lies the issue with the film, it has very little in the way of interesting subtext. All these messages we’ve seen before and done far better. Gold is much more of a slog than it should be, and despite the fact that it’s a true story I have to believe it must have been a more exciting time than this film makes it out to be. Gold may not be able to rust but its film namesake sure feels dilapidated.
Verdict: Despite a watchable cast and a pace that never flags Gold is a tired piece of cinema, offering little in the way of surprises.