‘Gold’ review: Inspired McConaughey performance isn’t quite enough to make new film a treasure

Image of a scene from the movie Gold starring Matthew McConaughey

Matthew McConaughey stars as gold prospector Kenny Wells in the new film “Gold.” PHOTO CREDIT: The Weinstein Co.

“Gold” features another fine performance from Matthew McConaughey, who starts the film looking like he just came from shooting “Dallas Buyers Club.” That’s to say, a little on the thin side. By the end of the film, he looks more akin to his character from the first season of True Detective, with decidedly more weight around the midsection. Aside from his inspired acting, “Gold” feels too much like a story the viewer has already seen before(even if it is (loosely) based on true events). It seems to shoot for being the “The Wolf of Wall Street” of gold prospecting, minus the illicit drug use and shock factor. The irony is McConaughey already briefly starred in that film.  And as a finished product, “Gold” feels like it is trying to do too much, when all it really had to do was pause, find a groove, and let Kenny Wells be Kenny Wells.

McConaughey stars as Wells, a gold prospector working in his father’s firm. It is 1981, and his father has been quite successful. Unfortunately, his father dies shortly after assigning Kenny to a big project. Kenny doesn’t have the same amount of luck that his father did, and by the time 1988 rolls around, the commodities markets are at a downturn as well.  Sales are sluggish, and once-clients of his father don’t want to meet with Kenny.  He now works out of a local bar to save money on office rent(which he probably couldn’t afford anyway), along with a few of his trusted colleagues.  Fortunately, this is before the days where most office work was done on a personal computer requiring a network connection!  Although it is hard to say why there were so many phone lines available at the local watering hole.

One night Kenny has a dream about a particular spot in Indonesia, and he wakes up certain that there is gold to be found there. He gets in touch with a educated geologist named Mike Acosta(Edgar Ramirez, of films like “Domino” and the recent “The Girl on the Train”) who has had success in the region, and the two realize they both have equal amounts of bull-headed passion. Kenny believes in his dream, and Mike will do anything to prove his intuitions right.  With nothing but a dream and some borrowed money behind them, the two start mining.

A promotional clip for “Gold” was just released, and it features a scene where Kenny gets locked into a cage with a tiger.  To what end?  To prove his masculinity, of course. At first, the scene just feels reminiscent of something that would happen in “The Hangover”, but thinking about it further, it just seems unnecessary. And this is what “Gold” tries to do: it takes the basic narrative, and tries to punch it up with something outrageous.  But the scene ends up coming off derivative of other films, and doesn’t do anything to advance the plot. The characters themselves are a little too stable. Kenny Wells may like to drink and smoke a lot, but he’s no Jordan Belfort.  Nor should he try to be.  And if it isn’t throwing in superfluous scenes, it’s chasing a cliché, like when his longtime girlfriend(played by Bryce Dallas Howard) decides she doesn’t like all the wealth and wants to go back to her simpler life.

While the character of Kenny Wells is not actually inspired on a real, live human being, McConaughey embodies the character fully and gives Wells a soul. His performance is about more than just physical transformation and running around in tighty-whities(and there is plenty of that). Kenny’s story is partially formed through narration, as the viewer realizes that Kenny is being interviewed by somebody. It is at the end of the interview(and close to the end of the film) where the viewer can see a different side of Wells. Throughout the entire film, Wells lets it all hang out(both physically and in terms of his personality), but it begs the question of whether he really was something of a prodigy, or just a loose cannon operating on blind faith.  It is one of the best moments of McConaughey’s career, to be certain.

“Gold” is entertaining enough, but the ambitious screenplay tries to do too much in a tight two hours, and it feels like director Stephen Gaghan(“Syriana”) lets it get away from him.  Screenwriters Patrick Massett and John Zinman have spent the majority of their careers writing for TV, and “Gold” sometimes does have the pacing of a miniseries, as opposed to a two-hour feature.  The ending almost tries to turn the film into a mystery, and why did it take until halftime before the viewer is let in on the fact that Wells is being interviewed, and is recalling his story to somebody?  Odd screenplay choices such as these overshadow McConaughey’s work here, and his performance alone isn’t enough to fully recommend “Gold.”  Better to wait for a cheap matinee showing on this one, and use the hot weekend ticket to catch up on one of the Oscar-nominated films.  “Gold” has a lot of polish, but its flaws certainly hinder its ability to shine.

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