I kept waiting for Stephen Gaghan, who gave us the compelling multi-tiered perspectives of Traffic and Syriana, to say something interesting in Gold. I'm still waiting. The film is about a minor '90s scandal most probably never heard of, the Bre-X mining scandal in which a prospector fraudulently claimed to have found gold in the jungles of Indonesia. There's an interesting story to be told about the rare minerals industry, the kind of people who live their life in it, and those who are slave to it, but Gold is instead just another tale of greed and capitalism, made to look like American Hustle's less capable cousin.
Speaking of American Hustle, the utterly fictional prospector Kenny Wells, played by Matthew McConaughey, sortof resembles Christian Bale's from that David O. Russell movie. Fat, balding, and used to a certain high-end lifestyle, Kenny is a classic case of a guy whose reach exceeds his grasp. Nothing will ever quite be enough for him, even when he gets everything he wants. And that includes the loyalty of his wife (Bryce Dallas Howard in yet another under-written role), which should be enough to get him through the lean times. This is 1988 after all, not long after the great stock market crash, and Kenny is suffering with everybody else. That desperation appears to be the only reason screenwriters Patrick Massett and John Zinman transported the story back a few years, other than the soundtrack that sounds like every other movie about the era.
After a fever dream that would make Tony Soprano jealous points Kenny in the direction of Borneo, he hooks up with wily archeologist Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez) who insists there's practically mountains of gold to be found. Not that Kenny sees any of it; he's down for the count with malaria, only to be awoken by Acosta after the discovery is made. Suspicious? Of course it is. But who cares? Everybody wanted to get in on what would be the most significant finding in mining history. The company's stock skyrocketed, and Kenny basked in the benefits. He had everything he ever wanted, but mostly what he wanted was legitimacy. Money has the power to give that to you, at least if you're the sort who believes self-worth is measured only in dollar signs. There's not much new that Gold manages to sift out from all of the gravel and dirt.
The real scam taking place is that we should be following Kenny at all. This might have been a better movie if focused on Michael, because he's the guy doing all of the leg work while Kenny just gets richer and richer. There's a twist that occurs later on that attempts to correct this, but really it only makes the case more stark. We've spent the bulk of the movie following a character whose motivations are simplistic and familiar, while another has been running around in the background doing something rather extraordinary. Upon reflection, learning the full scope of what had been going on adds considerable power to the scenes shared with Kenny and Michael, especially as the former forges what he believes to be a real, lasting friendship, something he obviously has little experience with. But even that idea is glossed over like so much else thanks to Gold's narrow focus and lazy moralizing.
The greatest fraud Gold pulls off is presenting itself as better than McConaughey's previous treasure-seeking flicks, the box office disaster Sahara and intolerable rom-com Fool's Gold. I'd wager there's more reward, at least in hilariously awful Razzie-worthy performances, in seeking those out.
Rating: 2 out of 5