Mark Reviews Movies

Gold (2016)

GOLD (2016)

1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Stephen Gaghan

Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Bryce Dallas Howard, Edgar Ramírez, Corey Stoll, Toby Kebbell, Bruce Greenwood, Michael Landes, Stacy Keach, Macon Blair, Bill Camp, Rachel Taylor, Craig T. Nelson

MPAA Rating: R (for language throughout and some sexuality/nudity)

Running Time: 2:01

Release Date: 12/30/16 (limited); 1/27/17 (wide)


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Review by Mark Dujsik | January 26, 2017

The dramatically stagnant Gold seems to be based around the transformation of Matthew McConaughey—from the actor as we know him to the actor as we know him with a head of thinning hair, an oversized incisor, and a beer belly. McConaughey shows up in his usual appearance for the first two scenes of the movie, and then he becomes this variant but still familiar form for the rest. He's supposed to represent something. After his transformation, he's the picture of failure and impending doom. By the end, he is portrait of a fool. There is not much of journey between those two statuses, and that might be part of the problem here.

The point is that McConaughey's Kenny Wells doesn't represent anything other than some superficial idea—either failure or foolishness or, at the most basic level, the capacity for an actor to change his appearance drastically. Kenny's an underdog until he thinks that he has struck it rich beyond the rational expectations of anyone. Then he's a jerk. Then his attitude and behavior as a jerk is punished. If the character represents anything beyond himself (or the actor's transformation), it would be the corrupting influence of money or the very idea of having money.

The character, of course, denies that. It was never about the money, he tells another character, whose presence in the story is, oddly, kept something of a mystery for a long time, even though it goes a long way to understanding the thrust of the story. It was, he says, about the gold.

There's a difference, apparently, since Kenny is a modern-day prospector. For him, the glory is in finding an untapped gold mine and discovering that it is the largest, most valuable one in history. Yes, it's worth billions upon billions of dollars, but there's more to it than that, apparently.

Of course, Patrick Massett and John Zinman's screenplay only discusses the find in terms of its monetary value, and Kenny's rise to prominence is showcased only in terms of the financial benefits of suddenly owning a company with ever-rising stock value. For a man who isn't in it for the money, that seems, by all measures, to be the only thing that matters to him or anyone else, for that matter. Then there's the issue of the movie's final note, which is all about the number of zeroes on a check.

The story proper begins with Kenny at rock bottom. His family's prospecting business is all but finished. He drinks a lot. He has lost his house and is currently living with his long-time girlfriend Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard), whose own house is in jeopardy. He has a dream of a find in Indonesia, pawns his and Kay's most valuable possessions, and flies to Jakarta.

The man he wants to lead this expedition is Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramírez), a geologist who once discovered the largest copper in history but has since fallen out of favor with his peers. With the help of the few employees he still has, Kenny scrapes together a quarter of a million dollars to fund an expedition. After a lot of obstacles, it's successful, and suddenly, everybody wants a cut of the find.

The screenplay seems disinterested with just about every aspect of this story. It's inspired by—meaning "loosely based on"—a true one, and that is the screenplay and director Stephen Gaghan's claim to the movie's foundational significance. These things, more or less, happened, and therefore, there might as well be a movie about these events.

The true story is one of fraud and uncertain culpability in those fraudulent activities. For about three-quarters of its running time, the movie is about a down-on-his-luck man who gets more than everything he wants and becomes an even worse version of himself. There is one hint that everything is not as it appears, but otherwise, we're just watching a man whose determination leads to his greatest success but whose pride almost gets in the way of it. When bottom falls out of the entire setup, there's a flash of promise—of the movie having something to say about the sort of system that would prop up a corrupt scheme because everyone is either too lazy or too blinded by the prospect of money to do a basic search for the truth.

The movie doesn't have anything to say about that part of the story, except to have a talking head on the news flat-out say it so that we get the point. It also features Kenny giving a Big Speech about what prospecting means to him, so Gold isn't just a story told for its own sake and without a point. It's also one that's told in an uninspiring manner.

Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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