Love him or merely like him, there’s one thing you can say for sure about the remarkably unhateable Matthew McConaughey: When he commits to a role, he goes whole hog. And then some.
The Oscar-winner (for 2013’s Dallas Buyers Club) once again transforms his physique thoroughly for his latest role as a saggy, aging, balding, beer-bellied prospector in Gold, a promising, if ultimately disappointing, cautionary tale about the power of greed to twist the human soul.
A would-be epic about Americans’ indomitable spirit for making a buck no matter what, Gold was inspired in part by a 1997 mining scandal involving the Canadian firm Bre-X.
McConaughey plays Kenny Wells, a passionate, loutish, hard-drinking, third-generation Utah miner who is all but circling the drain when he discovers the largest gold deposit in the world during a last-ditch expedition in Indonesia.
Édgar Ramírez is impressive, and a darned sight more subtle, as Michael Accosta, a renowned Venezuelan British geologist whose career is at a standstill when he meets Kenny in Jakarta.
A born manipulator and a talented confabulator, Kenny persuades the other man to start an exploratory dig, despite the duo’s inability to pay for it. Hey, why not? It’s the go-go 1980s, greed is good, and there’s a smell of adventure in the air.
Set in the wet, stifling jungle, the film’s first third is a lot of fun. Director Stephen Gaghan has a very light touch here as he wisely lets the two actors chew up the scenery together.
Out on a dangerous limb in the middle of nowhere, the duo remind one of Werner Herzog’s wild conquistadors and eccentric travelers from Fitzcarraldo and Aguirre, the Wrath of God. Frustration, desperation, even madness set in as they continue to drill for new core samples.
Kenny and Michael’s deepening bromance, their grandiose folie à deux, nearly kills them. Eventually, it makes them potential billionaires.
The latter half of Gold focuses entirely on Kenny’s life, and it’s a drag.
It’s as if, once they brought the story back to Utah, the filmmakers were desperate to cram in as many plot points as they could.
There’s a domestic story about Kenny’s troubled relationship with Kay — Bryce Dallas Howard (2015’s Jurassic World, Terminator Salvation) in a wonderfully bodacious turn as Kenny’s déclassé longtime girlfriend, who almost overnight goes from wearing cut-offs and T-shirts to designer gear.
There’s the story of Kenny’s hometown pals, a mass of well-meaning guys who helped him raise the cash he needed to get to Indonesia.
And least interesting of all, there’s the Wall Street story, a hackneyed plot line about an aggressive investment firm that tries to strong-arm Kenny and Michael out of their own company.
Pinging and ponging from Utah to Wall Street and back, the film’s final sections follow Kenny as he basks in his new-found fame, throws money around, and boasts of his exploits at overpriced Manhattan eateries.
He’s a rube ripe for the picking. The perfect target.
Without Ramírez to act as a ballast, McConaughey pretty much goes off the rails. He’s too aggressive, too grand, and he tries far too hard to give his character a mythic dimension.
Gold never settles on a coherent point of view. Is the film supposed to be a critique of capitalism, or is it a Horatio Alger story about a self-made man preyed upon by Wall Street?