Movie Review: Thar’s Gold in them thar hills: But it is easy to miss

Matthew McConaughey as Kenny Wells takes us on fool's gold errand in Director Stephen Gaghan's Gold

Édgar Ramírez and Matthew McConaughey in Gold

WASHINGTON, May 3, 2012 – Director Stephen Gaghan brings us the story of a frenetic prospector, Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey), in search of Gold (Black Bear Pictures Boies / Schiller Film Group), rated R, 120 minutes, 2.35:1 aspect ratio). Unfortunately, the film leaves viewers searching for the story Gaghan was trying to tell, but if you catch it, you have a great film, with great performances and incredible photography.

But if you miss it, movie doldrums ensue.

Loosely based on Canada’s Bre-X Mining scandal and a man by the name of David Walsh, Gold is not unlike the stories of DB Cooper, Bernie Madoff or the Wolf of Wall Street. But in reality, it is much more.  It is the story of gullibility, greed, and passion. The con-man manipulating his dupes for a big payday and how one man seeing only the good in those around him, is the biggest dupe of all.

Our opening scene is promising as Kenny Wells, Jr. explains prospecting using girlfriend Kay’s (Bryce Dallas Howard) purse as an analogy for the mine and the minerals to be found hidden in the corners. And the scene is brilliant.

But in this opening lies the understanding to the whole film – one sentence:  “We were a real business..”

If you miss this line, rewind. It sets up the entire premise of the movie, what makes Kenny Wells who he is, and makes everything that follows make sense. Miss it, and the film becomes nothing more than a quest for errant fools gold.

Kenny Wells has always worked in his father’s profitable business, Washoe Mining.  He knows his craft, but he is not his father. Due to economic downturns and his well, not being his dad, (Craig T. Nelson – Coach), and a general lack of acumen, Wells is unable to maintain the business and the once hugely profitable Washoe Mining becomes sludge.

Kay (Howard), Kenny’s girlfriend, provides a grounding influence on Kenny and where McConaughey delivers a just likable enough, but still smarmy on the edges character, Howard’s brings the only consistently likable character to this film. Howard (Jurassic World) is proving to be an incredible actress who may be one of the 21st Centuries screen legends in line for Meryl Streep’s crown and hopefully Hollywood will start to recognize this brilliant actress and we will see her in more feature and dramatic roles.

Bryce Dallas Howard and Matthew McConaughey in Gold

The film goes from their opening happy days (pun intended) to abruptly flash forward seven years after Wells Sr.’s demise. Kenny is heavy and without his youthful charm. An extra 45 pounds on his previous svelte frame and a very receding oily hairline and snaggly toothed smile, Kenny is fighting the general economic downturn of the era and his person.

Much is said about McConoughey’s dedication to the character. McConaughey delivers a performance that is well beyond McConaughey playing McConaughey. He did indeed shave his head, gained 45 lbs and wore false teeth to make the character less attractive, saying he gained the weight eating cheeseburgers while drinking beer and milkshakes. Add to that the shuffling walk, the slightly hunched shoulders pulled forward by his belly by Canadian club and we have a guy that will never make the finish line. Not unlike Arthur Miller’s Willy Loman (Death of a Salesman).

And there is no comment found from his lovely wife Camila Alves about how she felt about this “transformative change” which has thankfully returned to the McConoughey we know and love.

Image of Matthew McConoughey and Camila Alves at Gold opening : screenshot


While McConaughey’s performance in the role is outstanding, his character is fictional. Had they made Wells a little less obnoxious, a little less oily, a little less bald, a little less dentally challenged, we might have liked him better. Only it would have lessened that Wells is a schmuck and even once we know the truth, he is still a schmuck.

Gold screen shot showing McConaughey as Wells

Wells only redeeming quality is his passion for prospecting, leading him to Indonesia where he partners with Michael Acosta, (Édgar Ramírez). Wells and Acosta take off up the river, where they see children panning for gold along the banks, teasing us that there really is gold to be found in the mountains of Indonesia. It is a trip that Wells, overweight, and a generous drinker and chain smoker is hardly in shape to take.

Bryce Dallas Howard and Matthew McConaughey in Gold

Acosta is a good-looking, good-hearted guy in the vein of Gerard Butler that we want to like in contrast to Wells odious overbearing behavior and general unattractiveness. But he is not finding a gold mine despite hundreds-of-thousands of dollars of investment – money raised by Wells. As the money runs out, so do the miners.

Édgar Ramírez and Matthew McConaughey in Gold

As Well’s, stricken with malaria, lies in a feverish sweat with only Candian Club and cigarettes at his side, Acosta is traveling to the villages, installing water filters and helping the villagers and begging the miners to return. But Acosta is far from altruistic. While Wells lies in a feverish coma, Acosta is out trading the water filters and helping the villages in exchange for the river panned gold in a character, and movie, defining moment. He is collecting gold panned from the river, but why?  It is not in quantities enough to make him wealthy.

When Wells recovers he learns that they have indeed struck gold and they indeed have a gold mine. Wells returns to his native Las Vegas to raise money for mining, selling investors on promises of big profits based on soil tests showing gold in the soil, and ala Bernie Madoff, Wells raises millions from a lot of people. $170 billion give or take.

Celebrating the notoriety of instant money and fame the film has a lot of the same excess and extravagance of Wolf of Wall Street only without Di Caprio and with more than one unnecessary shot of an aging, fat McConaughey in his BVDS.

Wells, who quickly forgets he could not get anyone to take a phone call, is now being courted by big business, like investor Brian Woolf (Corey Stoll). Dad’s old partner Clive Coleman (Stacey Keach) steps back into Kenny’s life to provide him the capital necessary to restart Washoe Mining Company.

And we see the edges of naivety in Kenny Wells who told a reporter when pressed for a motto, “The last card you turn over is the only one that matters.” It is his way of justifying past slights from the very men his father made wealthy and who are now seeking wealth from Wells Jr.

Gold takes Wells from the arid desert of Nevada, to the lush rain forests of Indonesia, from the heights of Wall Street success to the gutters of failure. And here is a trick of the blu-ray.  Listen to Gaghan commentary before watching the movie to better understand his use of a narrative framing device, a series of flash-forwards to an interview between Kenny and an unidentified FBI questioner (Toby Kebbell), letting the watcher know the outcome of this story well before we get there.

Gaghan’s film requires more concentration than most home movie watchers are going to give. Because, again, if you miss that first line, you miss the film. The other issue with the film, and understanding it must be difficult for directors in awe-inspiring locations, like the rainforests for Thailand, to show restraint in sharing the beauty and remoteness of the location, would have been a little more constraint.

Director of Photography Robert Elswit provides plenty of eye candy with deep shots along the river, of the children panning for gold and the lush rain forests, however here, as, throughout the movie, a good editor could have added some likability stars to Gold.

The story is about Wells, and Acousta. Had there been fewer pans of the lush location, the story may have benefited because, in the end, it’s all about what happened to the $170 billion dollars that disappeared, not the forest in which it was left.

Read more from Jacquie Kubin in CommDigiNews


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