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02 Feb 2017

Tarnished 'Gold': Matthew McConaughey Is Great, but the Film Around Him Is a Confused Mess

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Bryce Dallas Howard and Matthew McConaughey in Gold. Bryce Dallas Howard and Matthew McConaughey in Gold.

You have to give Matthew McConaughey an “A” for effort for Gold, which is “loosely based on a true story.” McConaughey not only stars as wannabe gold magnate Kenny Wells; he also co-produced the movie, thinned his hair, put in some weird teeth and gained weight for the role.

Sadly, maximum effort doesn’t result in an optimized return for Gold. The movie is an uneven, confused endeavor, and McConaughey winds up looking like a guy, normally in really good shape, who messed himself up for a few months to shoot a movie. He doesn’t look real, like Robert De Niro did when he destroyed his physicality for Raging Bull. He just looks slightly out of shape and made up. Even if McConaughey looked truly messed up, Gold would still be a mess—albeit a sometimes entertaining mess.

Wells is a fictional character, and the film is based loosely upon the Bre-X gold scandal of the 1990s. The original scandal was based in Canada, while director Stephen Gaghan (Syriana) brings this story to the U.S.

McConaughey goes full-throttle as Wells, owner of a prospecting business in Reno, Nev., who is looking for that one strike that will make him legendary. He comes across a renowned explorer, Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez), who has the ties and ingenuity to mine unsearched parts of Indonesia. Kenny pawns his watch and goes into business with Acosta.

This is where the movie gets a little sketchy. There are a lot of shots with Wells flying around to different locations like Indonesia and New York. There’s a substantial sequence in which Wells runs around the jungle with Acosta and gets ill, and another that deals with the business/stock-exchange ramifications of Kenny’s dealings. It all becomes a bit much—it’s too hard to keep track of, yet too routine to distinguish itself.

In the end, the film plays out like The Wolf of Wall Street minus most of the fun, but not minus the McConaughey. (He’s in both!) It’s the same basic plot: A headstrong guy tries to take the fast track to big riches and gets his butt kicked in the end. Unfortunately, this movie doesn’t feature Kenny Wells trying to get into his car after taking a bunch of slow-release Quaaludes.

Bryce Dallas Howard, who has had a terrible year with this and that god-awful Pete’s Dragon remake, plays Kenny’s long-suffering girlfriend, a role that utilizes absolutely none of her talents. She shows up every now and then looking mildly frustrated, than disappears for large swaths of the story.

The film’s (partial) saving grace is McConaughey, who remains fully committed to the role and makes Wells an engaging character, even when the events swirling around him are confusing and unoriginal. The movie is almost worth seeing to watch a good actor giving it his all.

As for the storytelling, there’s nothing new here, and the big twist isn’t a surprise at all. The movie wants to be a jungle-adventure movie and business adventure all in one, and the two don’t meld together well. The movie winds up feeling like four or five movies mushed together.

While it’s hard to feel bad for an Oscar-winning actor, it is a bit depressing to see one of the good ones do all of this—for naught. Gold is not worth the strain he must’ve put on his cardiovascular system, although I’m sure he had some fun nights pounding milk shakes and burgers.

Gold is playing at theaters across the valley.

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