With the sudden death of his father, fourth-generation prospector Kenny Wells sees the family business, Washoe Mining, rapidly decline and him out of business. But ambitious Kenny has a dream, a vivid vision that promises mountains of brilliant and pure gold in the lush jungles of remote Indonesia; an aspiration which the well-known, yet still unlucky geologist Michael Acosta shares. Before long, down-on-his-luck Kenny will convince the eager geologist to become his partner and set off on an adventure deep into uncharted territory, while in the meantime, he would hunt for investors. Unfortunately though, as the risky expedition begins without a single speck of gold or the promise of it on the horizon, disease and failure will begin to threaten the short-lived dream. However, is it indeed an intriguingly bold and reckless fantasy?Written by
McConaughey is the glitter in a film without much gold
Longing for the American dream should never be inextricable from the determination of an individual. Dreaming about achieving a goal should go hand in hand with proactively doing it. Without veering off on a transcendentalist tangent, let me introduce Kenny Wells. Wells is a pot-bellied, greased up chain smoking alcoholic, perhaps uncomfortably seen as the heir to the throne of the Washoe Mining Company based in 'the biggest little city in the world' and where Johnny Cash sang of a prisoner shooting a man, 'just to watch him die'. The one and only, Reno, Nevada. So maybe I haven't painted Wells in such a great light so far. He certainly isn't the godchild of Emerson, but that's what director Stephen Gaghan appears to try and convey. This is Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey as you've never witnessed before, presented in a way that's far from an idealised sharp-suited image of the American dreamer and stoically opposed to Ron Woodward's skeletal frame in his winning performance in 2013's 'Dallas Buyers Club'. However, he's the film's gleaming treasure in a somewhat clichéd quest for glory, even if the main aesthetic shine is only from his forehead in an Indonesian jungle.
'Gold' is loosely based upon the Bre-X mining scandal of 1993 with Gaghan confusingly transporting us straight back to the 1980s to a world of questionable suits, post-punk, Iggy Pop and the romantic aspirations of Wells. His journey is somewhat instigated by the death of his father, luring him further into the volatile and unpredictable world of gold mining, conducting the train through its successes and abrupt halts. From the smoky testosterone filled bars of Reno to the sweat inducing tropics of Borneo, we realise how integral McConaughey's performance is to the success and believability of the narrative. Although somewhat charismatic through his wittiness and general naivety to the overall project, Kenny Wells is a man who is out to make money. Wells' sidekick, geologist Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez), is bestowed with elements of morality and spirituality, clearly seen in his proactive interaction with the Indonesian people. So therefore, Wells' financial determination combined with Acosta's endearing qualities and intelligence make the relationship such a strong focal point of the film. The strength of the characters makes the adventure seem almost tangible, yet still questionable.
Looking at McConaughey's transformation, you may just begin to question how Kaylene (Bryce Dallas-Howard) has fallen for such a downtrodden hopeless wanderer. However it's her innocent undying belief in him that makes Wells' decline even more forceful. There is an essence of the childhood sweetheart in her demeanour, the archetypal support mechanism to Kenny's weaknesses. Yes, she rides on the wave of success to its highest heights with Wells, lavishing herself in material riches but in a way, she is the moral spine of the film, never losing sight of the real Kenny Wells she's grown up loving. Kaylene acts just as much as the voice of reason as Michael Acosta and it is the combination of powerful relationships that we will really take away from the screen. The dizzying heights of financial success ultimately lead to a strenuous, yet somewhat predictable breakdown between Kenny and Kaylene and we can't help but feel like she is completely unworthy of any of it. Whiskey plus money plus the inability to maintain your dignity . Well you know the rest. That's not saying Kenny Wells is a vile person, despite his, for want of a better term, shabby look. We're willing everything to work out for both of them, yet the American dream just becomes too much to handle.
McConaughey's character compared to the regimental sharp suited Wall Street bankers is a deliberate contrast by Gaghan. Our willingness for the sugar coated American dream to work out is pitted against the cold-hearted capitalist intentions of Brian (Corey Stoll). Wells' resilience to counteract an offer made by Stoll and his legion of top button fastened, tight tied troubadours, can only be admired. The ambition to fight against globalisation, to hold onto your dreams, to recapture lost determination and to let nothing stand in your way in fighting for what you want, is made believable through McConaughey's stellar performance. However, in what should be an adventure full of undying speed to keep up with the lustful desire for success, the film's narrative is too slow to match the pace of Wells' dreams. McConaughey is the glitter in a film without much gold.
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