Director: Stephen Gaghan
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Edgar Ramírez, Bryce Dallas Howard
Duration: 120 mins
Class: 15
KRS Releasing Ltd

The pursuit of the American Dream has formed the basis of many a movie, oftentimes enve­lo­ping within it the trope of the little man making it big against all odds. So it’s no surprise that this story – loosely inspired by true events and revolving around Kenny Wells, who drove his father’s mining company into the ground but built it back up again into a billion-dollar outfit only to face a major crisis once more – proved to be the perfect fodder for the big screen.

Gold promises a fascinating story about a larger-than-life character set against the backdrop of gold mining. However, the intricacies of the plot get pushed aside to make way for a rather over-the-top performance by Matthew McConaughey in the starring role.

It starts off intriguingly enough, with Wells licking his wounds following the crash of the family business. Broke and depressed he – rather improbably, it must be said – has a dream about striking gold in Indonesia. Selling off his meagre possessions, he heads there, seeking out famed geologist Mike Acosta (Edgar Ramirez) along the way; and after months of physical and emotional hardship, including a violent bout of malaria, financial struggles, stubborn bureaucracies, workforce walkouts, and more, the duo finally strike gold.

The success of their venture garners the attention of major Wall Street bankers and investors, including the unwanted advances of billionaire mining magnate Mark Hancock (Bruce Greenwood). And while Kenny enjoys the attention and his flourishing bank account, his obsessive mania to maintain control blinds him to the risks he has exposed himself to.  And then one day, the FBI comes a-calling…

The intricacies of the plot get pushed aside to make way for a rather over-the-top performance

Wells is a fascinating character and, on paper, would seem to be a dream role. McConaughey certainly sinks his teeth into it but, for all its padding, it is a rather thinly-sketched role, and the actor’s performance is little more than a scenery-chewing exercise. Like Johnny Depp in last year’s Black Mass, McConaughey has taken the route of blotting out his char­ming good looks, coming to the role with thinning hair, a pronounced beer belly and odd-looking teeth; yet like Depp before him, the physical transformation oftentimes proves to be too much of a distraction from the narrative.

Moreover he imbues the character with loads of bombast – manic grimaces and wild gesticu­lations pepper his performance – and very little in terms of depth or complexity.

Therefore, we get to know little of what makes the man tick, what drives his ambitions and ultimately, the extent of the damage to his life and reputation when things begin to go sour. There are few moments when the actor truly gets under the skin of the character – his passion for the mining industry is evident, and the actor strikes a genuine emotional chord as he recounts with misty eyes the story of his grandfather taking his wagon out west in search of a fortune, and his father building up a solid business.

Yet these moments of authentic feeling are fleeting, and as he charts the course from a man determined to fix his broken dreams to successful businessman whose world is his oyster, yet who once again faces ruin, it is very difficult to engage with him along the way.

And so intent is the film on focusing on his character alone, that the more fascinating deve­lopments of his inexorable and improbable rise – the ‘vision’ that led him to Indonesia, the hardships he faced, the fêting by smarmy bankers and lawyers, the sneaking suspicion that all may not be as rosy as he thinks – are skirted over; so when things finally reach a head, you’re left wondering what actually went wrong.

Wells’s partner Acosta is infinitely more interesting and, in Ramirez’s hands comes across as a man who is intelligent, aloof yet equally passionate about the business. His unpretentiousness is the polar opposite to Wells’s posturing; an intriguing character who keeps his cards pretty close to chest…

As for the supporting characters, they are pretty much given short shrift. Bryce Dallas Howard does all she can with the poorly-written role of Kay, Kenny’s long-suffering, yet always supportive, partner.

The various bankers, lawyers and FBI agents that pepper the story are little more than one-dimensional stereotypes, resulting in a film that certainly doesn’t glitter as much as its title.

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