‘Gold’ mines Matthew McConaughey’s performance to become enjoyable despite standard plot

"Gold" | The Weinstein Company Grade: C+
The Weinstein Company/Courtesy
"Gold" | The Weinstein Company
Grade: C+

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At first glance, Stephen Gaghan’s “Gold” looks like a typical Oscar bait film. It features an A-list actor who physically transformed for the role, a plot based on true events and a limited release during awards season. While “Gold” fails to fulfill its huge potential and won’t take home any gold of its own, it still proves enjoyable.

The film is loosely based on the Bre-X mining scandal, and it tells the story of Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey), a prospector who has lost much: his father, most of his business and a tragic amount of hair. On his last dime, Wells flies to Indonesia where he and geologist Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramírez) toil amid mud, torrential downpours and malarial mosquitoes until they strike upon a gold mine. Now, Wells and Acosta must fight to keep it from the hands of shady bankers and corrupt governments.

“Gold” is a film we’ve seen before. Kenny Wells’ meteoric rise and crushing downfall is formulaic at best. Nothing about his character arc is surprising, following every plot beat one could expect out of a cocky and boisterous yet resourceful character. Think of Wells as a discount Jordan Belfort; his character works in the film, but this is no “Wolf of Wall Street.” Additionally, the film features several boardroom scenes, which have been better crafted in films such as “The Social Network” and “The Big Short.” If businessmen wistfully staring out of office windows while monologuing sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Even the actors cast as these businessmen are familiar, as Corey Stoll and Joshua Harto reprise their “Ant-Man” and “The Dark Knight” roles, respectively, as Unlikeable Corporate Guy. Those actors do a fine job, but it doesn’t abate the sense of déjà vu that permeates the film.

Even though “Gold” will feel familiar, that doesn’t stop it from being watchable, which is due in large part to its star. This is Matthew McConaughey’s movie, alright. Through sheer charisma, he magnetically draws the viewer’s attention in every frame he occupies. Such charisma allows McConaughey to say lines such as “make that dolla holla” and nobody bats an eye. McConaughey also pulls off an impressive physical transformation. Mirroring his 47 pound weight loss for “Dallas Buyers Club,” McConaughey gained 47 pounds for this film through a (enviable?) diet of endless beers and cheeseburgers. To top it all off, McConaughey shaved his head and designed his own crooked teeth prosthetics. His dedication to the role is palpable, which translates to screen presence that turns a barely passable film into an enjoyable one.

Additionally, Bryce Dallas Howard, as Wells’ girlfriend Kay, turns in a solid performance. As Wells’ newfound wealth brings out his worst traits, Kay fights to preserve the good man she once knew. This relationship is believable and provides half of the film’s emotional backbone. Wells’ friendship with Michael Acosta provides the other half, and while Edgar Ramírez’s stoic character proves to be an effective foil to Wells, the film doesn’t give Ramírez enough screen time to cement their friendship.

Although the film sports a fine cast, editing and pacing issues muddle the plot. Some scenes begin and end abruptly, jarringly yanking the plot to where it needs to go next. In this sense, certain parts of the film aren’t given time to breathe. Moments that should feel significant are cut short, and other moments bearing little consequence drag longer than they should in what feels like (to quote Wells) “a malarial haze.” As a result, it’s not clear how much time passes. One feels as though the film could have spanned several years, but guessing that it took place over a few months doesn’t seem wildly contradictory either.

Ultimately, the film tries to be a profound rumination on the price of the American Dream, but it doesn’t say anything more revelatory than “money is the root of all evil.” But when the film presents such a theme with Matthew McConaughey’s iconic Texas drawl, a voice that never ceases to amaze no matter what he’s saying, it doesn’t sound so cliche. “Gold” isn’t particularly memorable, but it won’t be a bad watch on Netflix either.

Harrison Tunggal covers film. Contact him at [email protected].