Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey) comes from a prospecting family going back generations. However, by the 1980s looking for minerals has changed dramatically from the Gold Rush days, where it’s now controlled by big businesses, engineering, science and where billions of dollars are wagered on a claim paying off.
Due to a downturn in the economy, Kenny’s family business is in the gutter. He thinks he’s found his way back with a bit of a Hail Mary pass – a largely dismissed theory that there are huge reserves of gold in Indonesia. He teams up with the man who came up with the idea, Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez), and raises a small amount of funding – far less than they need – to try to get things started.
When it looks like things are panning out, Kenny suddenly goes from being a joke to being lauded by business and Wall Street. He also finds himself caught up in a massively cutthroat world, where others are out to steal his claim. Indeed, while it may now all be dressed up in the smart clothes of modern business, modern day prospectors face similar dangers to the ones they did years ago, and they may also be just as blinded by the possibility of finding gold.
If there were an Oscar for ‘sweatiest film’, Gold would have won. Whether it’s in the heat of the Indonesian jungle or as things get tense back in the world of American business, there are certainly a lot of shiny brows in this film. It probably should have got a few real Oscar nominations too, as despite a couple of problems, it’s a really good film.
Matthew McConaughey in particular deserves a lot of praise, as the man he’s playing is essentially an asshole with a bit of an obsession with finding gold. McConaughey takes a brave line with it, as he doesn’t try to hide or soften the fact Kenny is often a dick, but still makes him watchable and human by showing that he is not deliberately bad, just more naïve than he’s willing to admit. There’s also a bit of humour brought in by the disparity between the enthusiasm and drive of Kenny and the dourer demeanour of his prospecting partner, Michael. Edgar Ramirez plays it extremely well, bringing a sense of intrigue to Acosta, so that even while he is a little humourless, he’s still interesting.
The movie does have a few problems initially, as despite a framing device involving Toby Kebbell’s Paul Jenning’s interviewing Kenny about what happened, it’s not clear what direction the movie is heading. As a result it feels a little like the narrative is jumping in various directions. That would be less of a problem if it didn’t initially go off into the Indonesian jungle looking for gold Sierra Madre style, before abruptly shifting into a lot of stuff about modern business, stocks, and the lure of money. It slightly feels like the movie it looked like it was promising you, has suddenly become something rather different – from Fitzcarraldo to Wolf Of Wall Street.
Thankfully it soon pulls itself through, and the American business side becomes increasingly interesting and entertaining, as you increasingly realise that all the money and high living is based on faith. Billions are being pumped into Kenny’s business, not because there are tonnes of gold already pouring from the ground, but because of the possibility it may. We may see the movie through Kenny’s eyes and his driving obsession with finding the precious metal, but there are many more caught up in their belief that a little gold means there’s a lot more out there. It may be about mining minerals, but it’s also a worrying look at what so much of our economy is based – the promise that something is going to happen and the inability to countenance that it won’t.
This is the first theatrical film Stephen Gaghan has directed since Syriana back in 2005, and it really shows that he ought to step behind the camera more often. Taking in a lot of themes in an entertaining way, Gold may not be perfect, but by the end it’s tough not to get pulled into its complex themes and its dissection of modern business and politics. Perhaps most intriguing is that while officially it’s not based on a real mining scandal, in reality it is (what happened with Canadian company Bre-x in the 1990s), and most of what may seem like the more outlandish aspects of the movie are actually true.
Overall Verdict: A couple of narrative issues are more than compensated for by some good performances and a smart story of faith, business, and the lure of gold.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac