Director: Stephen Gaghan
Runtime: 121 minutes
Gold is a fictionalisation of the events that led to the Bre-X scandal of the early ’90s. Bre-X was a group of Canadian companies behind the biggest gold deposit fraud, which shocked the mining industry and angered investors who had lost billions of dollars. Names of the guilty parties have been changed for protection, and the company has been relocated from Calgary, Canada to Reno, Nevada.
Our central figure is Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey), a man raised in the mining industry under his father’s business. By 1988, his business is bankrupt while his wife Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard) works at a bar, but Kenny is headstrong and never afraid to take risks. He sells his possessions and drops off in the deep, dark jungles of Indonesia, where he is convinced that he will find gold. Teaming up with geologist Mike Acosta (Edgar Ramirez), his dream is realised when the pair discover a gold mine. Wells convinces the world to invest, and turns a penny stock into a billion-dollar enterprise. However, he gets surrounded by Wall Street bankers and key players in the mining industry who want in on the action. In one way or another, they want to steal from him.
Gold is not a documentary. Like The Wolf of Wall Street and American Hustle, it takes a complicated and ambitious subject and underscores it with humour. It’s very much like American Hustle to the point that Matthew McConaughey, who’s no stranger to radical appearances, embarks on a daunting physical transformation by gaining considerable weight and wearing a balding toupee. Gold uses a lot of pop-tunes, not only to recreate an era, but to give the film energy. There are stunning images (caught by There Will Be Blood director of photography Robert Elswit) of Wall Street’s upscale buildings, Kenny’s posh parties and Indonesia’s remote jungles.
The film’s attention is drawn to Kenny, a boastful entrepreneur with more faith in himself than anyone, and McConaughey, as always, gives his all. Before hitting the inevitable rock-bottom, Kenny gets caught up in the excitement, rides the wave of wealth, and with his success comes a blonde temptress, Rachel (played by Australia’s Rachel Taylor). Strangely, this character, who appears to be there to amp up the sexual tension (she gets in a hot tub with McConaughey), completely disappears from the film five minutes after her introduction.
As instructive as Gold tries to be, the characters are sketchy and the film’s episodic nature muddles the events. Characters share an exchange with Kenny and then the film abandons them for large chunks of time. One such character is Clive (Stacy Keach), a banker and friend of Kenny’s late father who doesn’t approve of Kenny cashing in his stock options. This relationship doesn’t leave a lasting impression due to Clive’s limited screen time.
Matthew McConaughey proved in True Detective that he can strip down his dashing looks, but here, I never forgot that I was looking at Matthew McConaughey (with extra pounds). Something about his otherworldly charm makes it hard to buy him as an ordinary man placed in extraordinary circumstances. Christian Bale, who had circled the role, would have made more sense because he can play unassuming so convincingly.
Stephen Gaghan, who won an Oscar for writing 2000’s Traffic, directs Gold without writing it. Michael Mann (Collateral) and Spike Lee (Malcolm X) were previously attached to direct. Gold is watchable and McConaughey’s amusing performance is supported by a tremendous supporting cast and lavish, era-appropriate production. However, it falls short of what audience might expect after so many movies – The Wolf of Wall Street, 99 Homes, The Big Short – have handled such a complicated subject in a cohesive and resonating way.