The Culture Movies

'Gold' lacks urgency or adventurousness

'Gold' stars Matthew McConaughey as Kenny Wells, who partners with a geologist in Indonesia. Matthew McConaughey's performance is a rousing feat without which this movie would have far less to recommend it.

'Gold' stars Matthew McConaughey (l.) and Édgar Ramírez (r.).
Patrick Brown/The Weinstein Company/AP
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( R )
  • Peter Rainer
    Film critic

Playing a Nevada wildcat prospector in “Gold,” Matthew McConaughey is potbellied, balding, and snaggletoothed. He seems to do his best work when he’s effacing his glamour, as in “Dallas Buyers Club,” where he lost so much weight for the role that, at times, the effect was more alarming than laudatory.

His performance in “Gold,” as Kenny Wells, isn’t quite up to his Oscar-winning work in "Dallas Buyers Club," but it’s nevertheless a rousing feat without which this movie would have far less to recommend it.

It’s the 1980s, and Wells, descended from a line of prospectors, has seen the family Washoe Mining Corporation fall into hard times. His office is the local bar; he shacks up with his adoring girlfriend, Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard), a waitress in the bar, because he’s lost his home; and he spends most of his time, when he’s not drunk, scheming ways to get back on top.

His moment comes when he pawns some jewelry and flies to Indonesia to partner, after much high-pressure coaxing, with a renowned, risk-taking geologist, Michael Acosta (Édgar Ramírez), who is convinced there is gold in them thar hills.

What transpires – malaria, big gold strike, visions of untold riches, scurvy Wall Street investors, Indonesian militia, double and triple crosses – certainly allays boredom. But except for McConaughey’s performance, there is little sense of urgency or adventurousness in the way the narrative plays out. Director Stephen Gaghan, whose script for “Syriana” was close to incomprehensible, and his screenwriters, Patrick Massett and John Zinman, cobble together the continuity by utilizing Wells’s voice-over narration and assorted flash-forwards, but to no great avail.

I suspect in the Trump era, we will be in for a spate of movies about the heady, shining ruthlessness of American go-getters. We’ve already seen, among others, “American Hustle,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” and “The Founder” and we haven’t even gotten started. What differentiates “Gold” from that bunch is that Gold is a naif, not a cutthroat operator or con man. For all his snaggletoothed slobbiness, he’s supposed to embody the spirit that makes America great. Perhaps. But he’s also the spirit that makes America grate. Grade: B- (Rated Rated R for language throughout and some sexuality/nudity.)  

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