McConaughey Strains To Carry Unbalanced "Gold"

Finally, a film to answer the age-old question: is a balding, potbellied, snaggletoothed Matthew McConaughey enough to carry a feature length motion picture? The verdict: not quite. Stephen Gaghan’s “Gold,” loosely based on the early 1990s Bre-X gold mining scandal, is too bizarrely paced and never funny or thrilling enough to qualify as a success. A killer soundtrack (Pixies, Joy Division, and Iggy Pop), a feral turn from its star, and a satisfying third act help, elevating the project to close call status. This is a triumph in itself. The first hour is such a chore that an aggregated near miss almost calls for a victory parade.

Writers Patrick Massett and John Zinman begin their tale in 1981 with a day in the life of mining company heir Kenny Wells (McConaughey). From the office bullpen he explains his profession to lady friend, Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard), as his co-workers buzz around him. Something is off from the get-go. The Oscar winner delivers every morsel of dialogue like he’s found the comedic Sermon on the Mount, except none of it is particularly humorous. A quick cameo from Craig T. Nelson as Kenny Wells Sr. concludes the movie’s determinedly flaccid prologue and we jump forward to 1988.

Kenny Wells Jr. is now the only Kenny Wells, running his late father’s business out of a dimly lit bar. Soon, a vivid dream and a spot of good luck hook our chain-smoking protagonist up in Indonesia with an old acquaintance: geologist Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez). The two head off into to the jungle, and, after an ungodly amount of time there – for characters and moviegoers both – they unearth the biggest gold find of the century. At last “Gold” becomes the “Wolf Of Wall Street” twin teased in its trailers. Except, still not especially funny.

McConaughey is entertaining enough through all of this, propping up a caravan of undefined supporting characters with his wild physicality. We don’t learn enough about Kay or Michael or Corey Stoll’s J.P. Morgan banker Brian to care about them beyond how they bounce off McConaughey’s nutty prospector. Even Kenny is not an exceptionally well-drawn character, with Gaghan leaning hard on his star to invent drama out of wild gesticulations. See: a mining montage wherein a malaria-stricken Kenny writhes in and out of consciousness while Acosta literally strikes gold – mostly off camera.

The picture belatedly finds its groove once it becomes clear that Kenny is recounting his story to an FBI agent (Toby Kebbell). What was previously a painfully straightforward drama turns surprisingly twisty, finally matching the energy of Gaghan’s musical montages, which had previously been the only reason to pay attention. This is when frustration really sets in. Why wasn’t it so compelling from the starting line?

Gaghan is known for talky, staid dramas (“Syriana”). “Gold” didn’t have to be one. A punched-up screenplay and harsher editing might have made it a bona fide romp. The real thing is much less convincing, ending up in dramatic no man’s land, tailor made for a pay cable watch that’s half-enjoyed and then summarily forgotten. It so awkwardly straddles the line between ‘00s Matthew McConaughey (mostly bad) and ‘10s Matthew McConaughey (mostly wonderful) that it unwittingly mirrors its subject matter; it’s a zero-sum game. Dig in at your own risk.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Mediocre)

Release Date: December 30, 2016 (Limited)
Studio: TWC-Dimension
Director: Stephen Gaghan
Screenwriter: Patrick Massett, John Zinman
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Edgar Ramirez, Bryce Dallas Howard, Corey Stoll, Toby Kebbell, Bruce Greenwood, Stacy Keach
MPAA Rating: R (for language throughout and some sexuality/nudity)