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Matthew McConaughey does the Oscar hustle in 'Gold'

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Do you enjoy watching men get excited about making lots of money? Then have I got a movie for you! If you kinda liked The Big Short and The Wolf of Wall Street, but found them a bit too pretentious with their "satire" and their "relevance," then Gold is just the thing. There's nothing fancy-pants here, just underpants, as displayed on a potbellied Matthew McConaughey prancing around in tighty whities.

This isn't a terrible excuse for grownup entertainment, just very, very familiar. Men and money, the struggle and the hustle. Trying to screw new women when the ones who stuck by 'em when they were poor are no longer stimulating enough. Thinking they did it all on their own and pushing away the people who supported them—or who actually did all the work—and got none of the kudos. (We just had the same basic story in The Founder, though that is a far superior telling.)

Gold represents a whole bunch of paradigms that desperately require a shift, not just in Hollywood, but in the real world. The movie is based on a real-life circa 1990s situation involving Canadian company Bre-X Minerals, but if you don't already know about that, don't spoil the movie for yourself by Googling it. Suffice to say, the true story was so altered by screenwriters Patrick Massett and John Zinman that they could just as well have altered it a smidge more to avoid being so clichéd. The Canadian company has become Washoe Mining of Reno, Nevada, headed up by Kenny Wells. McConaughey plays Wells in what we now recognize as full-on gimme-an-Oscar mode: not smooth or suave, but sweaty and blowzy and faux bald, suffering from a deplorable excess of personality, showing off his Method weight-gain in comic scenes of near nudity.

Wells latches onto geologist Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramírez), whose intuition tells him gold might be found in a remote valley in Indonesia. This allows director Stephen Gaghan (in his first feature since 2005's Syriana) to stage a couple of nice shots that look like something out of Raiders of the Lost Ark, with dudes in Indiana Jones hats gazing out over the jungle. But this is not a treasure-hunt adventure. Soon, sleek-suited Wall Streeters are desperate to invest in what looks like the "largest gold mine of the decade" (and, later, the largest one "ever"), but Wells is stubborn and wants to maintain control of his find.

Matthew McConaughey stars in Gold.
  • Matthew McConaughey stars in Gold.

Except it's not really Wells' find, it's Acosta's, and for a long while I wondered why Gold wasn't Acosta's story. If it had been, it would have automatically smashed many of the clichés that bring Gold down. As is, we're meant to identify with Wells' refusal to bow down to the corporate big boys and his tenacity in sticking with his "dream." But in spite of McConaughey's gusto for the character, Wells just isn't very interesting.

Wells is, in fact, rather contemptible for reasons that—no spoilers—undermine the little bit of meat that Gold has: its mild condemnation of the house of cards that is high finance, and of corruption and collusion among governments and corporations. Gold seems to imply, for a little while at least, that it's a bad thing that everyone in the movie thinks that as long as they're all getting rich, nothing else matters, not even reality, like having an actual lump of gold to hold in your hand. But the movie ends up condoning those attitudes, without even realizing what it's doing.

Wells may be bursting with purpose, but Gold certainly isn't.

Gold opens at the Carmike 12 Fri., Jan. 27.

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The original print version of this article was headlined "Matthew McConaughey does the hustle"

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