By: Amelia Solomon (Four Beers) –
Gold was slated to open on Christmas Day but was postponed until late January with a limited release on December 30th. This was not a good sign. It meant that the studio decided it could not compete with the crop of Oscar bait released at the end of the year.
The film was written by Patrick Massett and John Zinman, whose writing experience leans heavily towards television series, with the exception of the film Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Steven Gaghan directed the film, who had critical success with his direction of Syriana. But the resume of these three men includes action based drama, so in theory they’d be capable of creating a great movie, worthy of its title.
Gold follows Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey), a precious metals prospector, who is down on his luck and ran his father’s mining company, Washoe Mining, into the ground. In a drunken dream he envisions an image of a lush tropical forest in Indonesia. Convinced when he wakes up that this is the answer to all his problems he pawns his girlfriend Kay’s (Brice Dallas Howard) watch and flies to Indonesia to meet with Geologist Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez). The two team up together to dig for gold and sign a contract to split the profits 50/50. The film’s strongest point is during the climax of the film, which reveals a twist that most won’t see coming. Its resolution also works well, in that it leaves the viewer with a bit of mystery, forcing them to think about the story.
McConaughey is responsible for the intensity of this film as well as some of its failures. He carries almost every scene and demands the viewer’s attention at all times. Despite his transformation from rom-com star to award-winner with his roles in Dallas Buyers Club and True Detective, he falls short in Gold. Whether it’s a combination of over-acting or flat-out scene stealing, he doesn’t morph into Kenny, but instead seems to shout, “I’m Matthew McConaughey, and I’m taking a risk here and hoping it pans out into another Oscar.” Which is interesting, because this same approach paid off for him when he played the washed-up strip club manager, Dallas, in Magic Mike. But this time the result is a desperate caricature that distracts from the story. There are a few scenes in particular, where Kenny battles malaria, that felt false. Unfortunately, the audience knows he’ll recover or else there’d be no film. Also, I kept asking myself, “Why wouldn’t he go to the hospital?” These scenes served no real purpose except to allow McConaughey to work on his dying-man acting techniques.
The biggest issue with Gold is the fact that it never allows the audience to identify with Kenny and to fully invest themselves in the story. This lack of empathy toward the main character is a direct result of how he was depicted. By being an overweight drunk who’s brash and selfish, one can’t feel sorry for Kenny. He comes off as more of a jerk than someone you’d want to root for or hope succeeds, despite his girlfriend Kay telling him, “She knows he has a heart of gold…” Yes, she actually said that.
The reason it became very difficult to lose myself in this narrative is because this two-hour film was mostly montages set against music. There was a significant lack of actual scenes, where the music stopped, and where we were left alone with just the actors, speaking dialogue to one another, and engaging with one another. In fact, the first time I perked up was over half-way through when Kenny gets in a fight with Kay in their room at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. All the distractions that Director Gaghan imbued into the film to highlight the excitement of striking it rich are swept away, and we are left with two actors interacting with one another. It was one of the few raw and real moments in Gold.
The majority of this film is set in Indonesia, and it was actually filmed in Thailand. Either way, these are gorgeous places with amazing scenery. However, Gaghan missed the opportunity to showcase the natural beauty of the deep jungle that Kenny and Michael find themselves in. I’d expect the colors from these sites to pop off the screen. But instead, the entire film is shot with a grainy grayish hue looking like a film from the 1980’s. Maybe that’s what Gaghan wanted; since that’s the time period it’s set in. But when Kenny’s father comments on the blue sky in Reno and how great it is, it would have helped if it actually beamed blue.
Gold is about one man’s last ditch effort to strike it rich. The problem is this man was a drunk and a loser when we meet him. The bigger issue is it’s hard to get excited about a film that glorifies the idea of immense wealth no matter what the cost, even if it’s on the backs of child slave labor and through bribing officials in an authoritarian regime.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: Each time there is a voice-over.
Take a Drink: Each time a character says the word, “Gold.”
Take a Shot: Each time you see Matthew McConaughey in his tighty whities.
Shogun a Beer: For Craig T. Nelson’s cameo, because it’s Coach.