Director: Stephen Gaghan
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Bryce Dallas Howard, Edgarr Ramirez
Released: 3rd February 2017 (UK)
Matthew McConaughey introduced a preview of this film at the Ham Yard hotel in Soho last week. He told us that it was one of the two best scripts he had ever read and the lead character, Kenny Wells, is his favourite role of all those he has played in his career. In short, Mr McConaughey set us up for something special.
Now I have great eyesight but for the first hour of the film I seriously wondered whether I needed a trip to specsavers because I really could not see either the brilliance of the screenplay or the special appeal of the character. Towards the end of the film the attraction of both became clearer but by then it was a little too late.
Gold is not a bad film by any means. Nor, however, is it a particularly good one. It is, in fairness, a perfectly enjoyable one, for the most part and if it was on television on a wet Sunday afternoon you’d watch it all the way through and tell whoever was close by that you’d really liked it. But I doubt it was made with a wet Sunday afternoon in mind.
On paper it must have looked like sure fire Oscar bait. McConaughey certainly gives the role his best awards ready attention. Balding combover? Check. Beer gut? Check. Prancing around in Ugly Y fronts? Check. Lousy behaviour but heart of gold underneath? Check. Greed, loss, pride before a fall, redemption, learning what’s really important; check, check. It’s all here.
However, somehow it never quite gells in that way a story needs to, to be compelling.
It’s 1981, Kenny Wells from Nevada, explains to Bryce Dallas Howard (utterly wasted in a nothing role) what prospecting is by rifling through her handbag and producing the goodies in it.
Seven years later he has a dream of Indonesia and literally decides to follow his dream. He begs, steals and borrows the money to get out to jungles of Indonesia to look for gold.
There he teams up with dashing, cynical Mike Acosta (Edgar Ramirez) a geologist and together they start tapping for the shiny stuff. Indonesia is shown in all its natural glory but also its grinding poverty. Wells almost dies along the way from a bout of malaria but the pair do strike gold and the aw shucks good ol’ Southern boy is soon doing deals with presidents and Wall Street masters of the universe in stripy braces. The politicians and bankers are all villains of one sort or another. Wells is the dreamer, literally and figuratively, who is in it for something more than just the money. Wells is chasing the thrill, the American Dream, his belief in himself and his desire to make his late father proud.
Gold is based on a true story and no doubt that story is a remarkable one. However, oddly enough, remarkable true stories don’t always make great films. At several points Gold tries to reach for the exuberant and frenetic excesses of a film like The Wolf of Wall Street (in which McConaughey had a small but scene stealing role) but fails to reach even the first rung of that film’s gleeful orgy of indulgence. It’s hard to share Wells’ excitement or care too much about what’s at stake for him because as an audience we’re never truly made part of his story. It’s like watching someone you barely know win the lottery; interesting from distance but nothing you can really get involved with.
Overall, Gold is not a film to love or hate. Someone at the screening called it a ‘good TV film’ and while that may seem like damning it with faint praise, it’s a pretty apt and even complimentary description.