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Men and their big money have long been a box office draw in cinema from Orson Wells‘ long-favored Citizen Kane (1941) to Martin Scorsese‘s epic The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), and it seems there is no losing interest, as long as these anti-heroes are properly taken down as they are shown to be on the rise. That’s the fun part, the journey from rag to riches to well, whatever. With the latest in the genre, Gold is a mixed bag of sorts, detailing another reckless figure with tributaries of troubles in a film that never really finds its path.
We meet Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey), the grown son of a well-known and respected miner, a young man with the passion in his blood for the riches of gold. Kenny is desperate to keep up the family name and company his father (briefly seen and played by Craig T. Nelson), and as such travels the world in search of lucrative veins. With him is his girlfriend Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard), who is endlessly supportive of him, no matter the inherent ups and downs. That includes banking it all on a claim in Borneo where he tempts a geologist named Michael (Edgar Ramirez), who is supposedly gifted in locating precious metals, into a dig in the jungle where indeed, one of the largest deposits of gold ever discovered is made. It looks like paradise ahead for Kenny, but his troubles have just begun.
Directed by Stephen Gaghan, who hasn’t helmed a full-length film since 2005’s well-received Syriana, Gold is an interesting return that puts much of its weight in the lead role. More a character study than an adventure film, the movie is very loosely based on true events, though is clearly dramatized, and while it occasionally settles on a kind of black comedy tone that works, is otherwise adrift in a multitude of directions. Gaghan seems equally willing to have us rise up in the spirit of exploration and the thrill of discovery, getting us right behind Kenny as he becomes swept up in the glory and excitement as his failures turn around, but we are then seemingly meant to condemn his greed and apparent callous actions when it comes to women. Not that this is anything new for the genre, but the disparity makes it always hard to feel any empathy.
The issue might be McConaughey himself, who once again undergoes a surprising physical transformation in delivering us Kenny, adding a pronounced paunch and sporting a bald patch among other cosmetic appliances that certainly help is making the character an uncomfortable sight, not because of these but because of how he uses them. McConaughey makes Kenny slobbish-like, and his talky presence becomes a bit grating as the story progresses, greatly hindering our investment. Chain-smoking and almost always within reach of a drink, Kenny is never quite believable, and McConaughey can’t truly sink himself into the part.
While the first half is more engaging, with the lush island jungles and expectancy of discovery giving some time to allow Kenny to becomes established as a character, by the second half, as the Indonesian government questions the validity of claim and men with far more power than Kenny has being to impose influence, the film loses traction. What’s more is the departure from the central message in giving Kenny a fate that feels counter to the point.
Gold is a frustratingly complacent experience that is tethered to the tropes and standards of the genre, with another erratic and eccentric character wallowing in excess with lessons learned. While the supporting cast offers some good work, overall, there’s not much here to keep this compelling or enlightening enough to merit a watch.
Movie description: Gold is a 2017 drama about a prospector in the 1980s who casts everything he has into finding fortune in the mountains jungles of Southeast Asia.
Director(s): Stephen Gaghan
Actor(s): Matthew McConaughey, Edgar Ramírez, Bryce Dallas Howard