Director: Stephen Gaghan
Writers: Patrick Massett, John Zinman
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Edgar Ramírez, Bryce Dallas Howard
Supposedly based on real life events, Gold follows the rags to riches tale of Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey), a down on his luck prospector that risks everything with fellow eager geologist, Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramírez), in an attempt to make millions from mining gold in the uncharted jungles of Indonesia.
It all begins with a younger Kenny, working under his father, who owns and runs a highly successful mining company. We see him explaining the nature of his job to a beautiful, young woman and attempting to woo her by giving her a piece of jewellery. Not long after, he chats with his father, the latter staring out at a rather scenic cityscape and Wells, who’s narrating at this point, mentions that this was the last time he saw his father alive. The film then takes a significant jump into the future and we see the now heavily receded, more portly figure of Kenny, struggling to come to terms with leading his fathers business. He’s clearly turning to drink and after failing to convince financial backers to invest in his business venture, he hits rock bottom.
It becomes apparent early on that Kenny is going to be the equivalent of a human rollercoaster though and nothing much keeps him down for long. He’s well aware of his limitations too, and so going on a hunch, he jets out to meet Michael Acosta, a morally ambiguous geologist, who after some gentle persuasion agrees to enter into a partnership with him. This following a promise of financial support from Well’s provided Michael could find an appropriate mining location nearby the local river. The pair then set out together, heading up river and passing a promising sign in locals that are looking for gold on the banks themselves, before finishing with a back breaking trek into the jungle to the chosen site.
After recruiting several indigenous locals, setting up camp and digging for core samples, things quickly take a turn for the worse. Overworked in dreadful conditions, the locals strike and leave the site. Worse still, Well’s develops a fairly severe bout of malaria during this period, leaving him unable to do much other than rest. Appearing delirious in the midst of this, he gives a crestfallen Michael, who’s ready to quit, the last of his credit cards and money to convince the workers to return and get things back on track. Michael manages this, by ingeniously providing them with a clean water supply. With the workers now back, Michael is finally able to dig up enough samples and the results are extremely promising, all of which is music to a y-front wearing, reawakening Kenny’s ears.
Returning to the US significantly richer than when he left, a euphoric Kenny meets his girlfriend, Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard), at a plush hotel. Their relationship which can only be described as tumultuous takes a further nosedive when Kay, worried for his wellbeing and seeing the piranhas circling, tries to warn him about being manipulated and used. Of course, Kenny, who’s been heavily drinking as per, is in no mood to be lectured and believes with his new found prestige that he’s invincible. What follows are several highs and rock bottom lows. From the floating of his company, Washou Mining, onto the Wall Street stock market and picking up prestigious mining awards to being screwed over by associates Mark Hancock/Import Holdings, removed from the mining site by the military and having to face a full grown Tiger, just to impress the powerful Soharto’s son and wrestle control of the operation back.
There can be no denying that McConaughey is the main man here and he carries the film for long stretches. This may be down to the personal connection he felt with Well’s story, which apparently shares a lot of similarities with his father’s life and the piping business that he successfully ran. However, I did get the sense that he was deliberately chasing an Oscar with another transformative role, that involved unnecessary weight gain and a shaved head, but perhaps I’m being overly cynical? There is other fairly strong performances too. Edgar Ramírez was excellent as Michael Acosta; Corey Stoll was good as the sleekit, snake, Brian Woolf and Bryce Dallas Howard was decent too, although not blessed with a massive amount screen time. She also had the distinction of being about the only person in the film not motivated purely by money. Toby Kebbell had a short role as FBI agent Paul Jennings and I’ll give a shout out to him too, purely because he’s a fantastic actor and starred in one of my all-time favourite films in Dead Man Shoes.
There’s a few twists at the end of the film, maybe one too many in actual fact. The first involves the revelation of there being little to no gold on the site. The second is Michael ‘peppering’ the core samples with water based gold leading to a vastly overinflated value of the land and company, before buggering off with millions of dollars. His somewhat sheepishly, sharp exit at the aforementioned awards ceremony was a subtle hint of the double cross that was to transpire. This of course left Kenny in something of a pickle. Having not sold any stocks off himself whilst the going was good, he found himself penniless again and under intense scrutiny of the FBI, with his involvement in the fraudulent activities inconclusive. The reason behind the narration Well’s provides throughout is then revealed, with special agent Paul Jennings of the FBI intensely questioning him on his role in the whole affair. I wasn’t overly enamoured with the final twist and would’ve preferred the film to end on an entirely sour note. It wasn’t to be though.
Ultimately, it was fairly slow to start and the thematic message about greed and the American dream has already been done much better recently in films like the Wolf on Wall Street. Better is definitely expected given it’s a Stephen Gaghan film and his previous for excellence. Gold was neither outstanding or truly terrible. It was just ok.