Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Hear the phrase, “from the Academy Award winning writer of TRAFFIC and starring the Academy Award winning actor of DALLAS BUYERS CLUB,” and you’d assume you were in for a golden time, right? Not so fast. Director Stephen Gaghan and star Matthew McConaughey prove that their golden touch is wearing thin with the dramatic thriller, GOLD. Looking like the half-comatose love-child of WOLF OF WALL STREET and AMERICAN HUSTLE rather than something in the vein of THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE, this “based on a true story” tale lacks just about every ingredient to be the bold, lively treasure hunt it should have been. This would have been better served as a segment on DRUNK HISTORY.
It’s 1981 when we first meet wide-eyed optimist Kenny Wells (McConaughey). He’s a passionate worker at his father’s prospecting outfit, Washoe Mining Company, and has a solid relationship with cute girlfriend Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard) to boot. But we fast-forward, and oh what a difference seven years can make! Kenny’s father has since passed away, leaving his scrappy son constantly scrambling to survive. The noticeably aged, balding, pot-bellied hustler (a recycling of Christian Bale’s HUSTLE look) is no longer flush with cash, finding it impossible to get capital as the commodities market is in the toilet. And then it hits him: he must go to Indonesia to find an elusive gold mine – the “Ring of Fire.” Kenny then high tails it overseas, hooking up with river-walking geologist Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramírez), who knows exactly where to mine for gold. Many problems arise before the inevitable gold rush begins. It’s “mo money, mo problems” for the pair from there on out with investors and the feds.
It’s more than a little shocking that a writer of Gaghan’s caliber would direct a picture with so much narration – a crutch he’s never utilized prior. Screenwriters Patrick Massett and John Zinman’s interstitial device that has Kenny interviewed by the feds (led by Toby Kebbell) doesn’t add any electricity or tension to the ensuing story. We only hear his disembodied voice for the first act, and see what we’re hearing in the context of a hotel room deposition. Things actually don’t get going until GOLD’s third act when a legitimately riveting reveal happens – a.k.a. the place where this story should’ve begun instead of where it did (with a rote origin story).
The script takes great pains to avoid making this into a character study about these two men – Kenny and Michael – which this fictionalization of 1993’s Bre-X mining scandal desperately needed to be. Sure, we see Kenny crumble to the materialist trappings of 1988 (like cocaine, luxury and an affair with a hot broad) and a predictable, lazy “rags to riches to rags” arc, but we aren’t granted time to explore Michael’s mentality. What are the motivations for his behavior? We’ll never know. While there’s certainly no conflict resolution between the two men, there’s hardly any conflict either. Anything there is treated more as an afterthought. It did, however, make me think Ramírez would be perfect for a ROMANCING THE STONE reboot.
Perhaps the biggest thing this film fails to do is make the audience genuinely care about Kenny or his travails, because they never show him doing anything that ingratiates him to us. From moment one, he comes across as a sleazeball. Stealing his long-suffering girlfriend’s jewelry to fund the machinations of his get-rich-quick scheme is another deal-breaker. His daddy issues never come across as anything but lip service. Despite our dislike of him, it’s not even satisfying when the inevitable fall happens either.
Little things also begin to back up on the narrative around act two. We learn the details of Kenny’s business dealings through hurried, expository dialogue dumps, when these things would have been better shown during snappily-paced montages. The filmmakers also forget to establish characters, like the major figureheads at Newport Holdings and their functions. Bruce Greenwood’s character shows up to catch Kenny in flagrante, and then he disappears. Plus, there’s too much time devoted to a contrived, eye-roll-inducing metaphor where Kenny pets a tiger on a dare. Hijinks don’t equal narrative drive – something this film lacks in spades.
There will be no one rushing to discover this pot of GOLD.
GOLD opens on January 27.