Directed by Stephen Gaghan (Syriana) and written by Gaghan, Patrick Massett, and John Zinman, Gold is loosely based on the true story of the 1993 Bre-X mining scandal. Matthew McConaughey stars as down-and-out prospector Kenny Wells who stakes (no pun intended) his last penny on a partnership with a struggling geologist. Together, the two men venture into the jungles of Indonesia in search of gold.
I don’t think there any very many movie buffs out there that would confidently argue against McConaughey’s substantial acting talent, but Gold feels like a poor use of his efforts. Sure, his performance causes the audience to sympathize with Wells far more than the character deserves, but I still get the sense that this is exactly the character type that would have been played by Nicholas Cage about a decade ago, and the thought leaves me more than a little nauseous. Sleazy, balding, bafffoon-ish, yet miraculously full of heart and vision – forgive me if this kind of portrayal of American entrepreneurship is starting to bore me to death.
A persistent lack of originality is the film’s most glaring fatal flaw. From Wells’ relationship with his long-time girlfriend that turns sour as his success increases to the scenes of the newly wealthy prospectors “enjoying the ride” of their fortunes among Wall Street executives, Gold is riddled with overused tropes that fall just short of clichés. Sometimes a paint-by-numbers approach can make for a cathartic viewing experience, but this is not one of those times. McConaughey’s character simply isn’t a charismatic enough anti-hero for us to root for him – a problem more attributable to the film’s script than to McConaughey’s acting.
Edgar Ramirez delivers a competent but forgettable performance as Wells’ enigmatic business partner, Michael Acosta. He’s a geologist with a hands-on approach to prospecting who is intended to function, at least in the film’s first two acts, as the hardworking, trustworthy, and stoic foil to the drinking, cursing and chain-smoking protagonist.
The twist in Gold’s third act will come as no surprise to those already familiar with the story of the Bre-X scandal, but perhaps the film’s greatest strength beyond McConaughey’s performance is that it doesn’t show its hand too soon. The soundtrack also deserves some praise, as it is largely responsible for making some of the stale “living the dream” moments bearable.
Still, as far as crime-dramas go, Gold doesn’t exactly revolutionize the genre. There are certainly more memorable ways to spend two hours.
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