Do you like money? Do you enjoy movies about men who make lots of money? Do you enjoy watching men get excited about making lots of money? Then have I got a movie for you! Come on down to Gold! 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 fancypants here… just underpants, like a potbellied Matthew McConaughey prancing around in tighty whities. Fun for the whole family!
Well, maybe don’t bring the kids to Gold: they’ll be bored with all the three-piece high-finance shenanigans, and there’s tons of naughty language flying around. But this ain’t a terrible excuse for entertainment for the grownups: just very, very familiar. Men and money, the struggle and the hustle. Trying to fuck 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. (How familiar is this? We just had the same basic story in The Founder, though that is a far superior telling of it.)
Gold represents a whole buncha paradigms that desperately require a shift, not just in Hollywood but in the real world, which are jumbled up together here because this is “inspired by true events.” Gold is based on a 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 that reality was altered enough by screenwriters Patrick Massett and John Zinman so that they could have altered it a smidge more and not been quite so clichéd about it all. (Massett and Zinman are TV writers whose only previous feature script was for Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, which isn’t quite as ominous as it sounds. Gold isn’t dire.) The Canadian company has become Washoe Mining of Reno, Nevada — who would want to watch a movie about Canadians, I guess? — headed up by Kenny Wells. Wells is Matthew McConaughey (Sing, Kubo and the Two Strings) in what we now must deem his full-on gimme-an-Oscar mode: not smooth or suave but sweaty and blowzy, suffering from a deplorable excess of personality, showing off all the weight he gained in comic scenes of near nudity, and faux bald. (Or maybe he’s just revealing actual hair loss? I’m not bald-shaming, just wondering how far McConaughey is willing to go in his quest of further Oscar glory. He’s already won one, for Dallas Buyers Club, so he’ll have to go bigger for the next one.)
Wells is “a drunk, a clown,” not a major player in mining but a “raccoon” — so, a rodent who digs around the garbage, perhaps? — who latches on to geologist Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramírez: The Girl on the Train, Joy), who has an awesome intuition about where 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, dudes in Indiana Jones-ish hats gazing out over the jungle, but this is not a treasure-hunt adventure. Soon investors from Wall Street in their sleek suits 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.
Except… it’s not really Wells’s find: It’s Acosta’s, and I really do wonder why Gold isn’t Acosta’s story. (There’s a scene in which Wells is named Prospector of the Year, and I thought: Damn, that should be Mike’s award!) And if it had been Acosta’s story, it would have automatically smashed many of the clichés that bring Gold down (and not only the “it has to be a white man in the center of the tale” one that Hollywood loves so much). As is, we’re meant to identify with Wells’s refusal to bow down to the big boys with their corporate might, and his tenacity in sticking with his “dream.” But in spite of McConaughey’s entertaining gusto for the character, Wells simply isn’t very interesting.
Wells is, in fact, ultimately 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 (investment in the Indonesian mine is out of control long before a single ounce of gold is ever brought out of the ground), of the bullshit and bluster our economy is built on, of the corruption and collusion among governments and corporations (oh, the things Wells has to do to convince the Indonesians to let them keep digging!). Gold seems to be implying, for a little while, that it’s a bad thing that everyone here seems to think 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 seeming to condone such attitudes, without even realizing that it’s doing that. Wells may be bursting with purpose, but Gold certainly isn’t.