Gold (Stephen Gaghan, 2016)
It probably seemed like a good idea: take a real-life scandal, add stars, and the rest will follow. Let’s start with the first part. In the mid-1990s, a Canadian mining company, Bre-X, got involved in some shady dealings in Indonesia, striking gold but then running into serious ethical and financial problems shortly thereafter. This premise could definitely serve as the basis for a good morality tale, thriller, or both. If only the writer knew what s/he wanted to do with the material. And there’s the rub.
Part 2: the stars. We have Matthew McConaughey (Interstellar), Edgar Ramirez (Hands of Stone), Bryce Dallas Howard (Pete’s Dragon), Corey Stoll (Ant-Man) and a large cast of mostly lesser-known faces, each of which have turned in good and bad performances in their career. Most of them do a reasonable job of supporting what thin characterizations are given them (Ramirez being the standout, for me). And then there’s McConaughey.
Determined to make himself as physically repellent as possible, as if external ugliness represents internal miasma, McConaughey rages through the film like a rabid and mangy ferret, hair a patchy mess, always askew, and a flabby paunch where once were sculpted abs (don’t quote me, but there’s a good chance that belly is prosthetic). To top it off, someone decided that a fake tooth, bulging beyond the others, would serve the role well. Go figure. True, there seems to be cachet for beautiful people who ruin their good looks for a movie, but here it’s distracting, since McConaughey can’t seem to stop drawing our attention to the disguise.
It doesn’t help that he’s twitchy beyond measure. As Kenny Wells, son of a famous miner, in whose footsteps he longs to walk, he loses himself in drink and cigarettes while his long-suffering girlfriend, Kay (Howard), lends him hearth and home, as he not-so-patiently awaits the next big score. When a dream of a massive gold find sends him to Indonesia, he meets up with one Michael Acosta (Ramirez), an actual miner to Kenny’s poseur, and soon the two men are scouring the country’s untouched wilderness, where they do, indeed, discover gold. And that’s when things get complicated. Between corporate raiders (one of them played by Stoll) and the Indonesian military, they’re stuck. Maybe.
It’s all so murky and impenetrable that what narrative pleasures one might think awaits are lost in the morass of script and direction. Stephen Gaghan (Syriana) has a way neither with cameras nor actors, and the plot moves along at a snail’s pace until the final act, by which point we no longer care. There are occasional pleasures – most often occasioned by Ramirez – but they are few, indeed. McConaughey once starred in a dismal vehicle entitled Fool’s Gold. Take 2.