From what I’ve heard, “Gold” is very loosely based on a true story. Not particularly compelling on its own, the story eludes to hope and faith, gold and copper. It explores the luck and science of geology and mineral prospecting, thrown in with the backstabbing and greed of Wall Street. It holds the promise of something special, but ultimately is a wasted opportunity to tell what probably could have been a pretty cool biopic.
Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey) is a third-generation prospector out of Reno. The year is 1981, and times are tough for his small-time family business. Out of desperation, and with the inspiration of an alcohol-fueled vision, he flies to Indonesia to meet with Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez), a passionate hot commodity geologist fresh off a big find in the Ring of Fire. They forge a partnership and pseudo-friendship out of mutual interests (self-interests) and begin digging for buried treasure together.
When gold is struck, Kenny begins to change, as do all men in times of overnight success, or so the cautionary tale goes. He never strays too far from home, a used car salesman moving and shaking, marching to the beat of his own drum with an “I told you so” smirk on his face and his McConaughey Texas drawl coming out of his mouth. He spends most of the film sweating, with a ridiculous hairstyle and a paunchy gut, holding a drink of some variety, almost trying to be an unappealing typecast character for the time and place. It takes effort though, as McConaughey’s charming persona shines through even the worst costume.
Bryce Dallas Howard plays Kay, Kenny’s loyal girlfriend, who really doesn’t have much of a place in the film beyond being the light at the end of the tunnel for all of Kenny’s tireless work. She follows him around like a lost puppy, but there isn’t really ever much depth to the relationship, and it’s a wasted opportunity to have a dynamic scene or two.
The real on-screen chemistry is between the business partners. McConaughey and Ramirez together share something undeniable, and with a beautiful backdrop of the Indonesian scenery, their excitement and energy for the elusive commodity is the highlight of the film for certain.
The story never really goes anywhere significant, from the opening narrative explanation of the family business, to the very boring and predictable ending. Some might say it is a happy ending, while others might disagree. Therein lies the disappointment. Poor writing, because ultimately the characters weren’t made interesting or compelling enough.
Director Stephen Gaghan has written some gems (“Traffic,” “Syriana”), but as director, he is simply mediocre. Ironically, I would have liked to have seen some of his trademark plot weaving and intellectual ambiguity incorporated into the mix for “Gold.” Instead, the screenplay was written by Patrick Massett and John Zinman, a writing team that has done various television work, but nothing noteworthy. Gaghan’s next film holds some promise, however. In 2018, he will serve as writer/director for Tom Clancy’s “The Division,” with Jake Gyllenhaal and Jessica Chastain in the leads. It could be a return to his early 2000’s glory for him.
“Gold” won’t be seeing any awards, nor should it. I had it on my watch list last year with a powerhouse team on paper, but the story isn’t anything we haven’t seen before, and there’s just not enough substance. McConaughey and Ramirez are fantastic, don’t get me wrong, but acting alone is only a piece of the puzzle. Gaghan needs to stick to writing, it’s definitely his wheelhouse. “Gold” is worth skipping. You’ll be richer if you do.