All that glitters
In Gold, Matthew McConaughey looks like hell. After a brief prologue set in 1981, where he’s more or less at his handsome best, the movie shifts to 1988, and he has really let himself go. In his Oscar-winning role in Dallas Buyers Club, McConaughey was gaunt and ravaged; here his acting pendulum swings wildly the other way. As white-collar gold prospector Kenny Wells, McConaughey is balding, beer-gutted just short of morbid obesity and sporting the ugliest teeth west of the British Isles.
In that 1981 prologue, we see Kenny being passed the baton of their mining company by his father (Craig T. Nelson in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo). Then it’s seven years later and Kenny has run the company into the ground. He’s lost his house and moved in with girlfriend Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard) while he and a clutch of loyal co-workers try to keep the business alive by working phones in the bar where Kay waitresses, seeking vainly to reach bankers and getting stiff-armed by financiers who once hobnobbed with Kenny’s daddy.
Then, fired by a boozy vision imparted to him in a dream, Kenny hocks the last of his and Kay’s jewelry and jets off to Indonesia in search of celebrity geologist Michael Acosta (Édgar Ramírez), who once discovered a rich deposit of copper there and has a widely derided theory about untapped millions in gold somewhere deep in the Indonesian jungle. Kenny doesn’t scorn Acosta’s theory, though; his vision tells him it’s true, and he sees it as his last chance to redeem the heritage he squandered from his dad and legendary prospector grandfather.
When discoveries in the jungle make it look as if Kenny and Acosta might be sitting on billions, the worm turns. Doors open like magic. People who once slammed the receiver on Kenny are eagerly calling him. Kenny has already braved a tiger in Indonesia, and nearly died of malaria, but all that was as nothing compared to the wolves of Wall Street who are jockeying to outmaneuver him now.
Gold is written by Patrick Massett and John Zinman with more plot twists than are good for it, and directed by Stephen Gaghan with splashy bravura designed to make the twists work. It’s practically a one-man show, and McConaughey chews production designer Maria Djurkovic’s scenery with gusto; his Kenny is a vulgar, unstoppable blowhard, at once annoying and amusing, somehow inspiring devotion in men and women who are probably better people than he is, and envy in bankers and investment gurus who are almost certainly smarter.
The Kenny-Acosta bromance is the spine of the movie, but a more interesting thread is the Kenny-Kay story, and Bryce Dallas Howard makes a deeper impression than anyone, for all Ramírez’s inscrutability and McConaughey’s bluster. Somewhere in there is a hell of a movie, but Massett, Zinman and Gaghan didn’t bother to make it.