Struggling miner Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey) finally makes a fortune with a gold find in Indonesia he mines with the help of Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez). But can he keep it, when he has the Suharto regime, bigger Stateside rivals and the feds to contend with?
Actors with something to prove usually have two ways to do it: getting paid peanuts to work for some European arthouse auteur, or changing up how often they hit the fridge. The McConaughssance consolidated by his getting skinny for Dallas Buyers’ Club; now for a victory lap, the actor here gains 45 pounds and shaves his head.
While it’s initially shocking to see one of the most handsome men breathing looking like a sweaty uncle you wouldn’t want to come stay, it’s for the most part a totally futile effort. Which is a shame, as Gold sounds so strong on paper. Director Stephen Gaghan’s trademark efforts are Traffic and Syriana, two state-of-the-world thrillers for grown-ups that felt like trips behind the headlines, so the idea of him turning to a real-life scandal around another transnational commodity is an enticing one.
Unfortunately, his analytical eye has left him here. This is a McConaughey vehicle through-and-through, and Gaghan feels like merely a gun-for-hire. This means that instead of a forensic scalpling of the international precious metal trade – which might just be a tad dodgy – we instead get a sustained gawp at the sheer wonder of McConaughey’s acting.
It’s initially shocking to see one of the most handsome men breathing looking like a sweaty uncle you wouldn’t want to come stay.
As his good-old-boy-done-right makes his way up the rungs of the gold world, McConaughey’s gut and the daddy issues that sustain it keep getting in the way of potentially more interesting material. This film is so in debt to The Big Short, American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street you can practically hear the groggy calls between McConaughey’s managers the morning after the Oscars.
That said, we get neither a play-by-play look at how the whole thing works nor an ensemble in period clobber generously firing each other up as they make their grift, and we certainly don’t get an ambivalent examination of how this stuff may be bad for us but we like it anyway.
Instead, we get the McConaughey show, and every scene is about his performance and little else – with Ramirez’s fine work as a swashbuckling prospector of potentially dubious virtue getting criminally short shrift in particular.
So, we can have too much of a good thing. We’re wary of seeming like a spoilt child – had this come out in 2007 people would be nudging one another about how the romcom guy was actually good. McConaughey is superbly watchable, and his hard work saves Gold a star, but good performances from him aren’t the novelty they once were. More importantly, when he’s been good before, it’s been at the service of films that were actually about things – and not transparent bids for awards.
Nothing you haven’t seen done better elsewhere, this one’s a missed opportunity. McConaughey’s hard work is impressive, but that’s the only message Gold is interested in conveying.