“Gold” Is An Amusing, But Slight, Take On Capitalism

Stephen Gaghan’s Gold tells an interesting and – supposedly or, at least, somewhat – true story about a Nevada man who, in the 1980s, unearthed a massive amount of gold in Indonesia and after a brief period of enjoying his riches saw a spectacular downfall. Gaghan’s previous directorial efforts were the mostly forgettable thriller Abandon and the excellent Syriana, although he also wrote the screenplay for Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic.

The story of Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey) and Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez) is an intriguing one, but rather than relying on the strength of the material, Gaghan has tried to present it in a style that is very obviously an homage to the work of Martin Scorsese or, more recently, David O. Russell’s American Hustle. The picture portrays the the duo as a pair of hucksters, but it makes the mistake of romanticizing their characters, rather than depicting them as the villains – which they mostly are.

As the film opens, Kenny works for his father (Craig T. Nelson in a cameo) in a mining business and, eight years later, the company has fallen on hard times. Kenny seeks out Acosta, once a legend in his field but currently in a rut, and convinces him that he believes that there is a large quantity of gold in a desolate region of Indonesia. Kenny raises the funds for the expedition and the pair head off to the jungle.

While in Indonesia, Kenny nearly dies from malaria. However, after finding himself revived, he is told by his partner that they have found their hidden treasure. The discovery leads to Kenny getting mixed up with ruthless gold mining barons, the son of a despot and all manner of Wall Street crook. Naturally, his glorious rise is followed by a massive fall – and one that involves a plot twist, of sorts, that I won’t give away.

McConaughey does a fine job with the role and it’s one seemingly tailor-made for him.

He gets to be the wild eyed, motor mouthed good time Charlie that viewers expect from the actor. The problem is that the character is underdeveloped. He seemingly exists only to discover gold and raise the profile of his father’s company, while his relationship with his wife, Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard), is mostly one-note. The film makes the mistake of trying to get the audience to root for him, whereas other pictures – such as Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street and the recent The Founder – have had a better sense of the nature of their lead characters.

Gold is often amusing and its performances are good, although the writers mostly just scratch the surface of the characters.

I can see how Kenny Wells’s story could be one that would make for an interesting movie, but this picture merely follows a time honored trajectory for a story of this sort, rather than presenting it in such a way that makes it stand out. In other words, you could do far worse than Gold for an evening out at the movies – but judging it against many of the great films released at the end of 2016 that are likely still playing at a cinema near you, you could also do better.