Let's be clear: Matthew McConaughey's star still shines bright. Sadly, the actor has failed to match his talents with a worthy production since his Oscar win for Dallas Buyers Club and his lead role in season one of HBO's True Detective — lest we consider those hypnotic Lincoln car commercials that sound a bit more like a man slowly losing his sanity. Would a transformative role — one where McConaughey is dealt a receding hairline and a hefty bit of weight — be the antidote?
His latest film, Gold, certainly has the makings of a critical darling. Loosely based on the real-life Bre-X mining scandal, the Stephen Gaghan-directed film gives off the impression that it's The Wolf of Wall Street, but for gold mining, complete with the actor that lent The Wolf of Wall Street its greatest scene. Unfortunately, while McConaughey gives another strong performance, the rest of Gold fails to make a mark. It doesn't have the gusto to make a full, zany Wolf of Wall Street depiction of its lead character — though it has its moments — ultimately struggling somewhere in between dark satire and serious biopic.
In Gold, McConaughey plays Kenny Wells (a stand-in for David Walsh from the Bre-X scandal), a literal gold digger struggling to keep the family business afloat after his father dies. His operation is based out of a bar where his girlfriend, Kay (played by Bryce Dallas Howard), works. In a last-ditch effort to — again, literally — strike gold, he uses all of his savings to travel to Indonesia to speak with geologist Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez), whom he recalls vouching for hidden gold in the jungles of the country. Wells scrapes together enough money to put together a mining operation with the hope that the two will hit pay dirt.
It's an arduous task, and Wells almost dies from malaria in the process, but eventually, they do find their gold. With Wells' meteoric financial gain, Gold is at its most interesting, revealing how the man cares just as much about his reputation and family name as he does about the substantial money he earns. It is, rather obviously, going to be his undoing; Wall Street bankers are brought in, and they see the gold as a huge investment opportunity. But when the main banker is played with the steely charm of Corey Stoll, you already know Wells is screwed.
The downfall is tied into revelations about the gold Wells and Acosta discover in Indonesia — those who recall the Bre-X scandal will know why. Moviegoers unfamiliar with the nature of the scandal (I wasn't aware of the context) might want to hold off on doing any research on the incident until after they see the film, as the reveal is genuinely shocking.
The problem is there's not much else to the movie, which loads itself with anti-capitalist clichés — did you know, people who work on Wall Street might be considered shady? Somehow Wells didn't, despite pleas from his girlfriend.
Wells' ignorance throughout Gold also stands out: Unlike Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street, this man was completely oblivious to the crux of the film's big scandal. It's a bit disappointing, considering how much time we spend with Wells, as opposed to the more interesting secondary characters.
The saving grace for Wells, however, is that he's played by McConaughey. Fans of the actor will appreciate his soothing narrations; the Southern drawl is in peak Lincoln commercial form. Plus, enough can't be said about his tremendous physical transformation into the semi-biographical character who is balding, has a protruding front tooth and a quite a few extra pounds. In other words, McConaughey put in the work.
That makes it all the more frustrating that the rest of the film doesn't follow suit. Gold has the makings of a prestige drama, but unlike its lead character, it digs around and fails to find anything beneath the surface.
Gold arrives in theaters Jan. 27.