Last time Matthew McConaughey went on the hunt for gold it was a fool’s errand, a forgettable rom-com in a decade or so of forgettable performances. Now, post-McConaissance, he’s back to prospecting. For Gold, his golden tan and gleaming muscles are gone. Instead, we get thinning hair and a considerably less cut frame. Kenny Wells *is* a prospector, of a sort. He sits in an office, heir to his father’s throne and looks for opportunities to buy options and exploratory rights where precision metals and minerals might lay in waiting beneath the earth.
It’s a business, we’re told, not of being right or wrong, but of “hits and misses.” If Wells’ company was doing alright when we first meet him, when we flash forward several years to a time after his father’s death, things are more dire. Kenny and his crew are working out of a bar. His long-suffering girlfriend, Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard) is putting him up and keeping him sober enough to go to meetings with potential investors, every one of them increasingly exasperated. He’s inches from losing what little he has left and massively drunk, when a dream gives him one last desperate shot in the dark: Indonesia.
He hocks the few valuables he and Kay have left and tracks down Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez), a geologist with a maligned theory and a dated copper find to his name. Acosta’s not yet so desperate as Kenny, but he’s desperate enough to take a shot with a man he says looks like he had to steal something to get here. The pair set out to “prove ’em all wrong,” and there begins the wild and twisting tale. Gold is a picture that’s inspired by true events, and after it makes a point of telling you so, it’s easier to follow the breathless you-won’t-believe-what-happened-next structure of the plot. Truth *is* quite often stranger than fiction, but the bizarre tale behind Gold is inspiration in the broadest of strokes. And this, perhaps, is why the conceit wears thin, even if you don’t know the original story going in.
McConaughey and Ramirez are an effective one-two punch. Ramirez is all restraint and bubbling-under passion, while McConaughey funnels his exuberance into manic desperation and a curious sort of vanity. As the pair trudge through the underbrush, Acosta relentless in his pursuit, climbing through the jungle as if it’s nothing; Wells in a smarmy suit, sweaty, filthy, drying out, full of reckless abandon, there comes a moment where you truly want them to succeed, even if that success is untenable.
Gold succeeds more often than it fails. It’s an uneven story peopled by sound performances and a few moments of greatness. It occasionally feels as if the picture is grasping at (and not quite reaching) that fabled Scorsese aesthetic, but though Gold may be a commodity (a solid release in the dog days of post-Oscar qualifying runs) it’s not so precious a metal as that. Gold spins an enjoyable tale, but like its hero, this picture occasionally stumbles, drunk on its own promise.