Directed by: Stephen Gaghan | 120 minutes | adventure, drama, thriller | Actors: Matthew McConaughey, Edgar Ramirez, Bryce Dallas Howard, Corey Stoll, Toby Kebbell, Bill Camp, Joshua Harto, Timothy Simons, Craig T. Nelson, Macon Blair, Adam LeFevre, Frank Wood, Michael Landes, Bhavesh Patel, Rachael Taylor, Stacy Keach, Bruce Greenwood, Vic Browder, Dylan Kenin, Ben Whitehair, Stafford Douglas, William Sterchi
Ever since Matthew McConaughey shook off his pretty boy image and dared to be ugly in his roles, he has gained appreciation and respect as an actor. The icing on the cake, of course, was the Oscar he won for his role as enterprising HIV patient Ron Woodroof in ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ (2013). Suddenly McConaughey is more than that tanned, muscular man who showed his washboard on the silver screen. Not that he never takes off his shirt in front of the camera, but he shows a different side of himself more and more. In the adventure film ‘Gold’ (2016) little is left of the hunk he has been all these years. While McConaughey had lost twenty pounds for ‘Dallas Buyers Club’, he gained the same number of pounds for his role as the opportunistic prospector Kenny Wells. Wells is a scruffy type, with a beer belly, false teeth and receding hairline. He drinks, smokes and gambles and his choice of clothing isn’t exactly flattering either. Koot and De Bie’s ‘Dirty man’ is nothing compared to it…
‘Gold’ is loosely based on the Bre-X scandal from 1993. A huge gold deposit is said to have been discovered in the jungles of Indonesia. For legal reasons, the names of the key players and companies involved have been changed; in addition, the story was moved from Canadian Calgary to the American town of Reno. In a prologue, set in 1981, Kenny’s father (Craig T. Nelson) hands over responsibility for the family business Washoe Minings to his son. Flash forward to seven years later: Kenny practically killed the once thriving company (although the economy was not doing well in the second half of the 1980s, of course). He has lost his house and now lives with his girlfriend Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard), and with a handful of loyal employees he works out of the local pub, where the bankers make it almost impossible for him to keep his head above water. Although he is optimistic by nature, Kenny is having a hard time.
Until he has a drink-induced vision. He remembers the brilliant geologist Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez), who claims that there is a hidden gold mine in the jungles of Indonesia. With his last money he buys a ticket to Southeast Asia, where he convinces the inscrutable Acosta to do business with him. Acosta locates the exact spot and puts the locals to work, while Wells rakes in the money to pay for the entire operation. Whether it is ethically responsible to turn a (protected) nature reserve upside down for one’s own gain is not an issue; but the greed of Wells, Acosta and all those other businessmen lurking. Suddenly, Wells is interested in the tailored suits on Wall Street, and he is not strong enough to resist the temptations. Acosta has his affairs in order, but when even Indonesian President Suharto gets involved, the net closes around the opportunistic pair.
Kenny Wells is an interesting character: not because he looks bad, but mainly because of his character. He is a desperate dreamer, guided by his emotions. A man with his ‘eyes on the prize’. Blinded by his hunger for gold, he makes strange jumps. Acosta is in many ways its opposite: cool, calculating and apparently calm. A man of few words, who is uncomfortable with the fact that Wells adores him. The dynamics between these two characters are captivating. We soon discover that the gold hunt doesn’t quite go as planned, when we are confronted with flash forwards in which Wells is interrogated by a detective (Toby Kebbell). The story is largely put together by McConaughey, in a voice-over that seems superfluous because there is way too much explained. In addition, credibility is at stake here and there, especially in the scenes in which Wells and Acosta get involved with Suharto’s son.
With ‘Gold’ it goes both ways: on the one hand, this is a fascinating adventure story with solid actors, strong scenes (Wells in his grubby white underwear in the most luxurious suite of the Waldorf! Kay’s metallic dress!) and a fine decoration and music (Iggy Pop!). On the other hand, however, there are also the misses. The entire middle section feels long-winded, as mentioned, not everything is equally believable and maybe McConaughey is a bit over the top in this role. The real inspiration is lacking in this film directed by Stephen Gaghan (the screenwriter of Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Traffic’ (2000), for which he has won an Oscar, and the writer and director of ‘Syriana’, 2005), so that it doesn’t really stick at all. ‘Gold’ is certainly entertaining, but unfortunately not memorable.