Film Review: Gold

Suspenseful zigzagging adventure drama inspired by true events has a top-of-his-game Matthew McConaughey as a wired 1980s Reno mining company dreamer salivating for and maybe getting the big strike.
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The aggressively entertaining Gold, a mid-budget, impeccably cast and crafted adventure yarn, is steeped in traditional story values. It is just what theatres need and quality-seeking filmgoers will check out, and if they find some striking similarities between Gold and another current, equally excellent, gung-ho American TWC release The Founder, all will be forgiven.

Yes, some younger film fans may await the home visit, but they’ll miss out on some spectacular visuals in full splendor, especially the jungles and vast wilderness of Thailand that aptly stands in for Indonesia.

Director Stephen Gaghan (Syriana and Oscar-winning Traffic writer) is blessed with a strong script plucked from Hollywood’s prestigious Black List pile, a sterling ensemble cast to support star Matthew McConaughey, and a production team that also delivers. If the country hasn’t entirely lost its mind as recent and current events suggest, Goldshould bring in the votes to assure strong word of mouth and nice box office.

With reverberations of no less than The Treasure of Sierra Madre, Death of a Salesman and even Glengarry Glen Ross, the story has McConaughey at the center as the ever-energetic Kenny Wells, toiling for his dad’s respectable mining company in Reno. Addicted to the hunt for gold and driven as a hungry young salesman, Wells, speaking fast but smooth, seeks backing for prospecting but bank doors slam, even by minions working for big local investor Clive Coleman (Stacy Keach), a friend of his father’s.

At the father’s death and with entrepreneurial blood flowing in Wells’ veins and a hunch roiling in his head, he takes off for Indonesia to find gold. Although fueled by cigarettes, booze and drive, he has the brains to know he needs a bigger brain, that of a geologist, to bring home the bacon. He finds his man—the well-regarded geologist Mike Acosta (Edgar Ramírez)—at a posh Jakarta hotel and fast-talks his way to bringing Acosta onboard for the hunt, dangling many hundreds of thousands of dollars he doesn’t have yet.

Back in Reno, Wells, with support from devoted girlfriend Kaylene (Bryce Dallas Howard) and company colleagues like Bobby Burns (Adam Lefevre) and Connie Wright (Macon Blair), cobbles together just enough money to return to Acosta and Indonesia and begin the search.

In the jungles together with their native work team, there follow all kinds of ups and the downs that bad luck and harsh nature deliver. Wells persuades Mike to stay with it and they seal their 50/50 deal in a few words scribbled on a dirty paper napkin.

Wells returns to Reno to seek more backing and eventually learns Mike has found gold. Much follows, including big upheavals in Indonesia and Wells and Mike courting Suharto’s bad-boy billionaire son to invest. It takes a few years but Wells lands on Wall Street as major New York investors like Bryan Woolf (Corey Stoll) and Hollis Dresher (Bill Camp) get behind him. A stock market listing materializes, as does the courtship of South African mining titan Mark Hancock (Bruce Greenwood, delivering the accent).

New York also impacts Wells’ personal life by way of romantic heat generated between this new hotshot and hottie Rachel (Rachael Taylor), who works in investor relations. Another kind of heat, the anger kind, has Kaylene, ever a downhome Reno girl, leaving Wells. But there’s more yo-yo to Wells’ plight on all fronts.

Helpfully, much of what unfolds comes via Wells’ voiceovers, as much of the plot is delivered in flashbacks. The v.o. not only energizes the narrative but deepens our commitment to Wells.

Gold also rewards with a surprise ending whose hint of ambiguity makes it all the more chewable. McConaughey, who goes bald, schlubby, chubby (he added an extra 40 pounds), and sickly at times as the role requires, has mined one of his best performances yet. And it’s easy to see why he stepped in as a producer. That he manages to give Wells so much charm and credibility is an achievement that deserves awards attention.

Click here for cast and crew information.