It is not until Gold’s final act that what the film is about comes into focus; prior to that the film seems to be throwing themes about willy-nilly, hoping one will stick. Is this a movie about the blinding nature of ambition and greed? Is it about how success can make one lose sight of what is really important? Is it about brotherhood forged in the fires of tribulation? Is it about the beauty of pursuing one’s dreams? At various points in its runtime, Gold focuses on each of these themes, never with any particular success, the lack of focus serving only to throw the audience off the scent for the eventual twist. It is notable that director Stephen Gaghan, writer of Traffic and writer/director of Syriana serves only as director here, working with a script written by Patrick Massett and John Zinman. Gold’s dominant themes take so long to make themselves known (if they ever really do), that the film feels grossly overlong, even at a standard two hours.
Loosely based on Bre-X mining scandal, Gold follows Matthew McConaughey’s Kenny Wells, a down-on-his-luck prospector, inheritor of his father’s (Craig T. Nelson) business, waiting for one big strike. McConaughey sports a beer gut, a hairline receding in the most unflattering fashion, and prominent snaggletooth and he lets the look guide his performance, leaning into every sweatily energetic mannerism. Though he is often great, McConaughey has never been what one might call a subtle performer, and here he indulges his worst instincts, clearly enjoying the getup too much. More engaging is Édgar Ramírez as Michael Acosta, a once celebrated geologist whose star has faded and who needs a win. This need brings Acosta into Wells’ orbit and the two form what should be the film’s most meaningful relationship were it not for the presence of Bryce Dallas howard as Wells’ longtime and long-suffering girlfriend, Kay. Howard does fine work but her role never rises above the standard “nice girl who is forgotten when the protagonist makes it big” role. Despite McConaughey’s ostentatious outward appearance, it is Ramírez’s character who is the more interesting. It’s truly unfortunate that no one had the good sense to make Gold a movie about Acosta, or at least split time between McConaughey and Ramírez evenly.
It is obvious that Gold shares its DNA with a number of influences. Voiceover narration, courtesy of an interview of Wells that serves as the film’s framing device, recalls Goodfellas or The Wolf of Wall Street, though Gold does not come close the Scorsese’s propulsive energy; there’s also a clear throughline to American Hustle and, with scenes of white men chasing their dreams in the jungle, the films of Werner Herzog. The film to which Gold should draw the most comparisons, and suffer them, is Steven Soderbergh’s brilliant The Informant, which similarly de-glammed a handsome leading man to play a part based on a, perhaps dishonest, real-life figure. The Informant is an unsung masterpiece that seems doomed to be forgotten, Gold is merely forgettable.
Director: Stephen Gaghan
Writer: Patrick Massett, John Zinman
Cinematographer: Robert Elswit
Editor: Douglas Crise
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Édgar Ramírez, Bryce Dallas Howard, Corey Stoll