Based on the 1990’s Bre-X mining scandal, Gold stars Matthew McConaughey as Kenny Mills, a boisterous but sloppy businessman. Mills bets everything he has on an Indonesian expedition, which he hopes will secure the site for a gold mine. With the help of a no-nonsense partner (a perfect Edgar Ramirez), Mills presses on, even as his finances dry up and his company lingers on collapsing.
Gold takes too long to fully grab its audience, with a first act that should have pulled me in more. The contrast of life in board room meetings and the Indonesian gold digging should have been stronger. Since much of this is obviously a modernized update of The Treasure of Sierra Madre, there should have been more immediacy and punch in the first act. Thankfully, the wild second act and the downright crazy climax hit the spot. While the screenplay is uneven and lacking the grand scale that the story deserves, the film maintains interest with its let-it-ride, anything goes success story.
There’s a predictability to movies like these, as we wait for the other shoe to drop when the partying and ensuing debauchery peaks. On the other hand, there’s such a rollercoaster quality to Mills’ journey that the highs and lows are still adding up in the film’s final moments.
McConaughey is in top form, playing a man who is unfailingly driven and passionate when sober and irascible when drunk. Whether on top of the world or scraping the bottom, there’s a consistent desperation in Mills to be taken seriously by everyone in his life. McConaughey doesn’t concern himself by making Mills sympathetic but maintaining our fascination by portraying this creep both honestly and going for broke.
Ramirez is once again solid in a magnetic turn and Craig T. Nelson, Stacey Keach, Bruce Greenwood and Corey Stoll are perfect in supporting roles. After being stuck in forest ranger duds in Pete’s Dragon, it’s great seeing Bryce Dallas Howard cut loose. Playing Mills’ wife, Howard gives a sexy, grounded turn that makes us understand the attraction to the ride she’s on but also why she can’t keep up with her husband’s shameless excess.
The song choice for the soundtrack is fun, evoking the late 1980s in unconventional ways. Instead of the expected tunes by, say, Whitney Houston and Starship, we get Iggy Pop and a solid Talking Heads cover. There’s also the spot-on hairstyles, with Howard in particular appearing ready to claim her title as a 1987 Prom Queen.
The timing of this film is weird, to say the least. I’m not a political writer and have no interest in turning this into an editorial, but here’s the thing: can anyone watch this movie right now and not think of Donald Trump? The protagonist boasts an impressive, do-or-die business sense but is also delusional, crass, does and says whatever he wants and gleefully flaunts his indiscretions for all to see. He also has a head of hair that’s noteworthy for how ghastly it is and believes his success embodies the American Dream. Does this remind you of anyone?
Director Steve Gaghan previously made the justifiably forgotten Katie Holmes thriller, Abandon and the admirable but overrated Syriana. Here, he encourages great performances from his cast but can’t fully maintain the excitement and droll humor the story naturally exudes. Gaghan is clearly aiming for the mixture of outrageous excess and cautionary tale achieved by both The Wolf of Wall Street and American Hustle. This is closer to a good faux-Scorsese film, like Blow, than a genuine classic. McConaughey’s performance is the one element here that is truly 100 carat gold. His latest movie isn’t always stellar but McConaughey’s performance is better than just awe-right awe-right awe-right.