Movie review: 'Gold' squashes the American Dream with a sad attempt at satirical humour

07 April 2017 - 02:00 By Tymon Smith
In 'Gold', desperate prospector Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey) teams up with a similarly eager geologist and sets off on an amazing journey to find gold in the uncharted jungle of Indonesia, sparking an adventure through the most powerful boardrooms of Wall Street.
In 'Gold', desperate prospector Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey) teams up with a similarly eager geologist and sets off on an amazing journey to find gold in the uncharted jungle of Indonesia, sparking an adventure through the most powerful boardrooms of Wall Street.
Image: TWC-DIMENSION

In 'Gold', Matthew McConaughey tries his best with a mess that does little to uphold a cast that should have performed better, writes Tymon Smith

It has been 11 years since Stephen Gaghan’s last big screen outing as the director of Syriana, a brilliantly complex, multi-threaded narrative of greed, corruption, oil and international politics.

At first glance you can see what might have attracted him to Gold, a story that takes us from the US to Indonesia and covers the little-known world of gold prospecting in the 1980s.

It also has a little man with a dream at its centre who’s pitched against the nefarious machinations of seemingly insurmountable corporations, and politics, and a good dose of betrayal and back-stabbing to boot.

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Matthew McConaughey gives another committed performance as Kenny Wells, a prospector fallen on hard times who enlists the help of trailblazing geologist Michael Acosta (the ever-excellent Edgar Ramirez) to take a chance on an unexplored site in the jungles of Indonesia. After surviving malaria, dealing with corruption and a string of disappointments, Wells and Acosta finally hit the big time ... or so it seems.

While the expectations  have been high for fans of Syriana, they’re not met here. The film is uneven in tone, slipping between satire and silly cliché. McConaughey’s performance is magnetic but it can’t hold the story together and it’s not clear what hard-hitting point the film is trying to make. Kenny Wells is not a likeable character and so, when his dreams begin to blow dust in his face, it’s hard to keep committed to him as a hapless victim of the vicissitudes of fate.

Gaghan seems strangely disinterested in the material, especially for someone who’s taken so long to produce a second film. What should have been a compelling, biting and clever stripping down of the American Dream myth is an uninspiring, disappointingly bland mess.

When the twists arrive and the betrayals are revealed they seem tacked on and unmotivated. One wonders how much better things might have been if Gaghan had handled the writing himself (he won an Oscar for his screenplay for Traffic) instead of leaving it to television writers Patrick Massett and John Zinman.

Like the prospector working painstakingly in the jungle for years in spite of the derision of his friends, and who eventually shouts “Eureka!” only to discover that he’s found fool’s gold, audiences will be bitterly disappointed in their efforts.

If you want an anti-American Dream parable highlighting the follies of greed and materialism, you’d do far better to re-watch American Hustle, TheWolf of Wall Street or any news report about the Donald Trump presidency.   

WATCH the trailer for Gold

 

WHAT OTHER REVIEWERS SAY

• Sporting a pot belly, snaggled teeth and receding comb-over, McConaughey turns into a gonzo performance as a gold prospector. — Peter Debruge, Variety

• The sheer number of rags/riches toggles in the movie becomes dizzying and not especially enlightening. — Jesse Hassenger, AV Club

• Not as good as it should have been considering the cast. — Sandie Angulo, Chen, Common Sense Media

This article was originally published in The Times.

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