FILM REVIEW – GOLD. With Matthew McConaughey, Edgar Ramírez, Bryce Dallas Howard, Corey Stoll, Stacy Keach. Written by Patrick Massett & John Zinman. Directed by Stephen Gaghan. Rated R for language throughout and some sexuality/nudity. 121 minutes.
In GOLD, Matthew McConaughey plays Kenny Wells, a man who makes and loses fortunes in the mining industry, and whose life is defined less by greed than the need for success. Having inherited the business his grandfather started and reduced to running it out of a bar, he makes a desperate gamble on geologist Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez), who believes he knows where there’s gold to be found in Indonesia.
The film is a roller coaster ride as Wells’s fortunes ebb and flow. At one point he is looking for investors and goes to the firm of Clive Coleman (Stacy Keach), an old friend of his father’s. He doesn’t get to see Clive and is shunted off to two underlings, who pass on the opportunity. When Wells and Acosta find what is described as the greatest discovery of gold in the 1980s, Clive is now happy to see him–and Wells sends one of the underlings out to freshen his drink.
Of course, this success attracts attention, and a Wall Street broker named Brian Wolff (Corey Stoll) is eager to become involved, as a partner, not merely an investor. When a big operator in gold Mark Hancock (Bruce Greenwood), proposes a partnership, Wells finds his company’s name will disappear entirely. For Wells it’s not merely the wealth that the gold represents, but being able to say that it was his success. It leads to tensions with his wife Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard) and, eventually, being the prime suspect in an FBI investigation.
McConaughey continues to show he’s less interested in being a leading man than an actor, and his Wells is paunchy and balding, with long, stringy hair and an in-your-face attitude. He’s more anti-hero than hero. It’s his success the film is riding on, but it’s not so much that we like him as that we’re fascinated by his single-mindedness. As McConnaughey makes clear, Wells doesn’t merely want to win, he wants people to know he has earned it. When he wins an award for prospecting, his awkward speech is from the heart.
Like the recent “The Founder,” about how Ray Kroc built the McDonald’s empire, “Gold” is a story about the joys and pitfalls of American capitalism. When Wells’s new business associates are ready to throw him to the wolves, we see the difference between his burning ambition to succeed and that of others to simply amass wealth.
The film’s final twist–not to be spoilt here–should leave viewers with questions about the meaning of success and the price that others have to pay for one person to rise to the top. If “Gold” didn’t turn out to be the Oscar contender it was apparently intended to be, it is nonetheless a fascinating film about our culture and what we really think is of value.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His new novel, Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel, will be released next month. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.