Loosely based on a true story, Gold is Matthew McConaughey’s latest film which clearly had sights on being an Oscar contender, but ended up being a standard business drama.
Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey) is a commodities prospector whose company has fallen on hard times after the 1987 Market Crash. Desperate to reverse his fortunes Kenny goes to Indonesia on a hunch and a dream to meet a gifted geologist, Michael Acosta (Édgar Ramírez) to find gold in the jungle.
What the pair find in Indonesia is potentially the largest gold discovery of the decade and all major players in the industry and Wall Street want a piece, but want to force Wells out of his own company.
McConaughey used to be a joke in Hollywood, constantly making poor rom-coms in the noughties, yet has had a career renaissance since 2011. McConaughey was the best feature of Gold, clearly investing a lot of effort into the film as actor and producer: he shed his sex symbol image by putting on weight and wearing a bad comb-over.
Wells’ story is one of hubris: about a man whose own actions lead to his own downfall. Gold has the same story arc as films like Wolf On Wall Street and War Dogs showing down-on-their-luck men who achieve great success in a short space of time and lose it just as quickly.
Kenny has many opportunities to make his fortune from the mine but squanders it because of his arrogance. Yet he is a man who is dismissed as a lucky hick and is underestimated at the peril of the Wall Street bigwigs.
Wells is also a man who knows how to hold grudges and with his new found wealth uses it to humiliate the people who humiliated him. He pretty much sees any decision or idea that he doesn’t agree with as a move against him – leading him to make rash choices.
The other key theme of the film is the friendship between Wells and Acosta – Wells using his last bit of money he has to support Acosta’s expedition and Acosta returns his faith by staying loyal to Wells. But they also have different aims and agendas: Acosta wants to cash in.
Gold was directed by Stephen Gaghan, who famously won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Traffic and he has been living off that success ever since. Gold marks the first film Gaghan has directed based on someone else’s screenplay. Gaghan was working dry material about business/finance and geology and it is commendable that he tried to liven up the film with use of split screen editing and pop music.
The trailers for Gold made it look like it was a thriller set in the world of high finance and business: one of the big moments was when Ramírez’s character said “their killers”, implying that the pair were in danger. This was misleading because the line was meant figuratively, not literally.
Gold does have a fine supporting cast, with the likes of Bryce Dallas Howard, Corey Stoll, Stacy Keach and Craig T. Nelson in a small role. They are professional in their roles – Howard having the most to do as Wells’ girlfriend who is overawed by New York high society and just wants a simple life.
However, the supporting cast were given stock, thankless roles, and were all overshadowed by McConaughey. The worst offender was Toby Kebbell, who was played an FBI agent interviewing Wells: anyone could have done it.
Gold was based on the 1993 Bre-X mining scandal that led to one of the biggest stock scandals in Canadian history and the biggest mining scandal but many of the details were changed for legal and commercial reasons. The setting was moved to the familiarity of America and to the high-flying corporatism and greed of the 1980s.
Gold is a standard drama about the rise and fall of a business man that aims to be a less debaucherous version of Wolf Of Wall Street. It is commendable that Gaghan and his writers try to make the material as accessible as possible and even for a lesser entry in McConaughey’s recent filmography it continued to show his improvement as an actor.