Film Review: Gold (USA, 2017) roots for the underdog but takes itself too seriously

When you take an idea like the story of a dreamer, and mash it together with a cautionary tale about the wolves of Wall Street and big business. With your lead character as that grizzled underdog type, and have it all based loosely on a true story the result you get is Gold.

Set in the late 1980’s, Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey) runs his family mining business, but what was once successful is now falling on hard times due to an impending economic recession. After having what he believes to be a prophetic dream, he takes his remaining cash and meets up with geologist Mike Acosta (Edgar Ramirez) and they set out to Indonesia and the Borneo jungle in search of gold. After months of searching and digging, they finally strike it rich and Kenny returns to the United States a success. But with his business stock worth rising sky-high, come Wall Street go-getter Brian Woolf (Corey Stoll) and mining businessman Mark Hancock (Bruce Greenwood) circling in an attempt to lure Kenny and Mike into making deals and selling the mine for millions. Kenny, intent on keeping his American dream and trying to preserve his and his father’s legacy may end up making a mistake that will cost him dearly.

Back in the 1990’s there was a scandal regarding a Canadian company called Bre-X Minerals Ltd who had discovered a huge gold deposit in Indonesia courtesy of mining entrepreneur David Walsh and a geologist partner Michael De Guzman and how their almost worthless stocks suddenly skyrocketed. Only for the supposed gold discovery to be busted as fake and De Guzman who may or may not have scammed Walsh to suddenly disappear.

Using this initial story, screenwriting duo Patrick Massett and John Zinman (Friday Night Lights) came up with the characters of Kenny Wells and Mike Acosta which the film predominantly circles. The character of Kenny is the underdog American man whose identity seems quintessentially connected to his material wealth. Because of this Kenny is a dreamer and fighter, struggling to achieve, so when he does strike it rich it’s like a whole new world opens up for him. Mike on the other hand is the reserved and sometimes mysterious man of the earth. A man who speaks of the things he knows but rarely about himself. The friendship and camaraderie between these two drives the first half of the film.

But the latter half is where Zinman and Massett and director Stephen Gaghan (Syriana, Traffic) explore the darker issues surrounding a fast rise to the top on the back of money and wealth.Thematically Gold touches on a number of notions, the pursuit of the American dream, friendship and loyalty, the corruption that seeps in once the riches fall your way. There are tones of Death Of A Salesman and Glengarry Glen Ross but it also feels like a version of Wolf Of Wall Street that isn’t as funny or outlandish. There are moments of humour, most of which are at the expense of Kenny’s weight and body image or rampant alcoholism. The blatant show of wealth, with gilded hotels, luxurious limousines juxtaposed against poor Indonesian workers labouring over a gold mine. I’m not entirely sure if that was supposed to be a purposeful and meaningful contrast or an accidental depressing one. There are a couple of twists in the film, which make for interesting curve-balls but not enough to really add weight or substantial shock and awe.

Matthew McConaughey carries the weight of this film, both figuratively and literally since he put on around 50 kilograms, shaved his head (for a better prosthetic balding toupee) and customised false teeth to physically transform into the character of Wells. His charisma, energy and his commitment to let that beer belly hang out really brings the character of Wells to life.Unfortunately the same can’t be said for his co-stars. Bryce Dallas Howard is wasted as Wells’ long time girlfriend Kay, the only moment she gets to shine is when she tells him “If it seems to good to be true it probably is” and leaves him when she tries to warn him about the shady bankers. Corey Stoll always seems stereotypically cast as a bad or shady guy, here he is once again playing a possibly shady Wall Street broker. And Edgar Ramirez doesn’t really do much besides look ruggedly handsome, share bro-hugs with McConaughey and speak in philosophical sentences. For film that boasts a solid cast lineup, unfortunately (but luckily in some ways), McConaughey steals all the limelight.

Gold certainly does make you want to root for the underdog, the guy who had a dream and dared to achieve it. In a voiceover, Kenny says “For better or for worse, the ride had begun, and what a goddamn ride!”. But this film takes you on such a purposeful roller-coaster of highs and lows for the main character, that by the end of it you just want to hop off the ride. Not because it’s not an interesting story but just because it feels like it’s all too obvious. Hard working determined individual loses it all, only to strike it rich, to then be sought out by possible shady businessmen types, to then lose it all again, only to realise he probably should have just lowered his expectations at the beginning and been satisfied with having less. Gold is a good film but lacks the pompousness and ridiculousness to really make the rollercoaster a fun ride.

Review Score: TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Running Time: 121 minutes

Gold is screening Australian cinemas from 2today through StudioCanal