Director: Stephen Gaghan
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Edgar Ramirez
2 (out of 5) Globes
In “Gold,” Matthew McConaughey’s gut hangs over his tightie-whities. He’s hardly an Adonis when dressed, either: As floundering businessman Kenny Wells, our star sweats through grotty beige-on-white suits. His stringy hair is hand-combed back over a balding top. His teeth are piss-yellow from a lifetime smoking Winstons. It’s not a mere actor’s stunt, just another pretty boy uglying himself up for attention. At the same time, it’s not all that special either. Kenny’s another of McConaughey’s charismatic motormouths. He may be more desperate, more sweet-on-the-inside, more of a loser. But he’s simply a slight variation on the norm — a lot of work to do something that’s only similar-but-different.
McConaughey’s turn is emblematic of “Gold” as a whole — a noble misfire that tries to do something fresh with the familiar but can’t quite get there. It has the makings of a classic rise-and-fall horrorshow: Based on a real tale of greedy super-hubris, it drops in on Kenny, a never-was who so drove his father’s Nevada mining business into the ground that the offices have relocated to the local dive bar. He strikes gold — almost literally! — when he learns about a cache of the stuff lurking in the depths of the Indonesian jungle. He’s quick to lure Wall Street goons and untold investors with tales of his potential haul — so quick, in fact, that he’s living like Scarface before ground has even been struck, or if they know 100 percent that there be, in fact, gold. Hilarity, eventually, ensues.
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It would have been easy to play this as a “Wolf of Wall Street” knockoff. Kudos to Team “Gold” for trying something different. Kenny’s no Jordan Belson. He’s a dreamer, a kid who can’t wait to get into the candy store. “Gold” treats him as both fool and hero, with a tone that shifts from satirical to serious, scathing to sad. Sometimes it feels like every scene is from a different movie.Stretches in the jungle are epic and stirring; ones in the corporate world are madcap. Still, this could have stitched together. Filmmaker Stephen Gaghan’s shtick, if he has one, is movies that jump from place to place, between characters and characters, world-building by connecting disparate dots. (He wrote “Traffic” and went full auteur with “Syriana.” He only directed here.)
But even with Kenny in every scene, “Gold” never quite gels. It meanders, it fumbles around for focus. Its most interesting angles get lost in the murk. Buried somewhere in here is a moving study of the friendship between Kenny and his partner-in-crime, geologist Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez) — an oasis of loyalty amidst a desert of backstabbing. Granted, a twist ending retroactively, belatedly pieces some of this together. But “Gold” is frustrating as it unfolds. The Wall Street and jungle scenes come off like fumbled imitation Scorsese and Herzog, and the whole affair is surreally juiceless. Time after time, McConaughey goes to 11 while the camera just sits there, as stiff as he is electric. It all (sort of) comes together by the end, but it’s like a long con in which the grifter keeps losing the mark’s attention.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge