Not everything Matthew McConaughey does is worth watching. If you don’t believe that, take a whack at Gold, a movie that asks: Just how fascinating is the life of a modern-day gold prospector? And then forces us to examine that proposition in detail, with mixed results.
Inspired by a true story, director Stephen Gaghan (Syriana) and writers Patrick Massett and John Zinman track quixotic American gold hunter Kenny Wells (McConaughey), a scruffy go-getter with a glib tongue, to a jungle valley in Indonesia, where the plot staggers around a little before “the biggest gold find of the decade.” In fact the plot keeps on staggering, as Kenny and his business partner (Edgar Ramírez) first strike it rich, then learn valuable life lessons about the global precious metals markets.
With a slightly different approach, Gold might have cleaned up. We can see the outlines of a decent movie in this story of a charming hustler up against the big boys. Kenny reminds us of other McConaughey loose cannons. No matter how much money he makes, he looks like he slept in his business suit. It’s fun for about twenty minutes to see the actor deep in character, with a bald head and a serious pot belly, but you can’t carry a feature-length movie with just that. You have to give him something rare and remarkable to say, to show how Kenny manages to charm his girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) and his colleagues enough to get them to go along with his harebrained hunches. That is, it takes a clear-headed screenplay to successfully portray a crazy man.
Given what he has to work with, McConaughey is in top form as a dreamer who doesn’t mind getting dirty. Likewise Howard and Ramírez, also struggling to get out of the box. There are surface similarities to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Wolf of Wall Street, and other tales of rampant speculation and rampaging egos. But in the end the filmmakers and actors get bogged down in a futile search for something even more elusive than gold: good writing