GOLD: McConaughey’s Prospects Fail To Strike Cinematic Riches
Gold features a flashy performance by Matthew McConaughey, yet the remainder of the film surrounding him fails to impress.
Former romcom king Matthew McConaughey has seen the resurgence in his career well documented over the past few years, with the term McConaissance seeping into the consciousness to describe his Hollywood resurrection. After a long period languishing in roles that were entertaining but limited, the Texan actor found himself the toast of critical acclaim and highly in demand after a series of characters allowed him to show what he was really made of. From True Detective to his Oscar-winning turn in Dallas Buyers Club, he showcased his range, including creepy Matt (Killer Joe), soulful Matt (Mud) and Astronaut Matt (Interstellar).
However, his home run of plaudits appears to have hit a stumbling block. Aside from voice work in the family smash Sing and the much admired animation Kubo and the Two Strings, McConaughey’s last film Free State of Jones appeared to be the type to garner Oscar attention. However, it left little impression on both critics and audiences. And his new film Gold looks like it will follow the same fate, for whilst it is a solid performance, it is not quite a contributor to the McConaissance.
The story of Kenny Wells, a gold mining prospector, is quite a fascinating one, and it is easy to see why it caught the attention of director Stephen Gaghan. Inspired by true events, Gold starts in the year 1981, where Kenny (Matthew McConaughey) is showing his girlfriend Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard) around the family mining business, which appears to be flourishing.
By using Kay’s handbag as an analogy, Kenny explains the business of mining for gold, which serves as an explanation device for the audience. After a meeting with his father, a brief cameo from Craig T. Nelson who warns Kenny that ‘sometimes it’s all for nothing’, the film fast forwards seven years, where times have severely changed.
Now bald, overweight and drinking too much, Kenny is struggling with the loss of his father, the fallout of the recession, and desperately clinging on to the last remains of his family’s company. Struggling to find investors and raising capital all seems lost, until Kenny has a dream, a dream about Indonesia and gold. The next morning on a whim, he trades in his and Kay’s jewelry, flies to the country, and sets up a meeting with a like-minded gold hunting geologist named Michael Acosta (Édgar Ramírez).
Kenny and Michael become partners, yet the race to find gold in the Indonesian jungle is fraught with obstacles, with Kenny almost dying from malaria, to the local workers downing tools until Michael trades water filters for their help. In these scenes, Gold has a small echo of Fitzcarraldo, of the man in the jungle determined to succeed at any cost, willing to push health and financial ruin for his all consuming quest. However, Gaghan’s film only delivers a small nugget, and doesn’t master the intensity and bonkers spectacle of Werner Herzog.
Once the pair finally strike gold, their struggles don’t end there. The film travels through a multitude of highs and lows for Kenny as he battles company takeovers, the unstable stock market and everyone who wants a piece of the largest gold find of the decade. He is a man holding on to his dream by the tip of his fingernails.
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The story of Kenny Wells must have been an attractive and resonant character to McConaughey, as it is one that appeals to an actor – based on a real person and the chance for a physical transformation, which usually are the hallmarks to interest the Academy. The dialogue also gives Kenny the type of soundbites you could imagine being played at awards ceremonies, quotes such as ‘A bit of gold dust changes everything’ and ‘If you sell your dreams, what do you have left?’
Kenny Wells’ story might have also held personal significance for McConaughey, who experienced periods of intense wealth as a child from his father Jim’s business as an oil entrepreneur. But they also had a reversal of fortune when the crash of 1982 hit and Jim was on the verge of bankruptcy, unbeknownst to his family. The parallels between Jim McConaughey and Kenny Wells must have been impossible to ignore; both men were, by all accounts, larger than life, and the type of businessmen who the film refers to as ‘hustlers, scrappers, make it happen motherfuckers’.
It is a shame, then, that McConaughey’s portrayal falls flat in a film of missed opportunities. Perhaps the correlation to his own experiences clouded his performance and he could not see past the myth he had in his own mind. Or perhaps Wells simply is too much of an unlikable character; he is depicted as a man not merely interested in gold but blinded by a greed that is unhealthy and ugly. At times Wells seems as poisoned by his lust for gold as Gollum was for the ring, and his transformation to balding, overweight alcoholic may have been from the sickness that gold consumes him with.
The film seems to try and emulate the style and narrative of The Wolf of Wall Street, and there could be comparisons drawn between Kenny Wells and Jordan Belfort; both are duplicitous men, however director Stephen Gaghan doesn’t have the verve or jet black mastery of Scorsese to make it memorable. The soundtrack, which heavily features New Order and Joy Division, tries to inject a sense of sexy excess with a few montages of mining and the spoils of success, yet it cannot pull the film from the shallow waters it treads.
We are constantly reminded that this is the McConaughey show, with everyone else getting short shrift. Édgar Ramírez has little more to do as Michael Acosta then stand in the shadows of Wells, save for a final act that channels an emotional depth that had been lacking previously. Meanwhile, Bryce Dallas Howard is completely wasted as Well’s put-upon girlfriend. She is merely given a few scenes to show her loyalty and inevitable departure from Well’s insufferable behaviour, when she could have given the film more heart, which it sorely needed.
Gold had all the elements for a richly entertaining picture, yet its reliance on McConaughey to indulge himself in his performance ultimately proves to be its downfall; it is the type of lazy showboating that will turn many viewers off. It also means that the film will now be lost and all but forgotten during and after the awards season.
There is a third act twist that pulls a sense of bittersweet emotion to the film, however it is all but too late, for Gold had perhaps proved too formulaic and hollow at this point. The McConaissance may still be hanging on, but in this case, it has to settle for bronze.
Is the McConaissance on the wane? Does Gold strike a chord with you? Let me know your thoughts and comments.
Gold has seen release in US and UK cinemas. For all international release dates, click here.
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