The pursuit of the American Dream at any cost has long been a fertile device for screenwriters. Just recently, both American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street showcased the extraordinary true stories of money-hungry shysters determined to rise above their humble or inauspicious beginnings, no matter the consequences. Similarly, Margin Call and The Big Short offered portraits of success attained by comparably distasteful (if rather more legitimate) means. In the context of these films, Gold, by writer-director Stephen Gaghan falls somewhere in between.
Based on the real life events of the 1990s Bre-X Minerals fiasco, the film chronicles the rise and fall of a simple American prospector turned overnight millionaire named Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey). Balding, overweight and down to his last dime, Kenny's a third generation mining prospector staving off foreclosure of his family business, a predicament that renders him more than willing to embrace all that wealth and power can provide once they're suddenly within his grasp.
Where the film departs from the norm, at least notionally, is that Kenny always maintains that his drive and determination is grounded in the discovery of gold, not the money that it provides. Gold hence finds itself in the peculiar position of framing the story as one of 'us versus them' in which both the us (simple prospectors) and them (hedge fund managers and mining companies) are ludicrously wealthy. Money itself is not the point of distinction but rather how that money was acquired: 'dirt in the nails grit' versus 'manhattan investment', so to speak.
McConaughey delivers a committed and captivating performance; one for which he gained a full 18kgs to ensure his sizeable beer gut required neither special effects nor prosthetics. Gripped by a fever determined to kill him, and grappling with a Hail Mary mining prospect in the jungles of Indonesia that refuses to yield even a hint of gilded hope, McConaughey's performance oozes doggedness and desperation in equal measures. Opposite him, Édgar Ramírez puts in a far more reserved turn as Wells' geologist and business partner Michael Acosta. Together they make a likeable duo, and it's a crying shame how little of the film Ramírez actually occupies.
Unfortunately, despite the fine work of the cast, Gold feels like a story unsure of how best to be told, flicking between Scorsese-esque drama and quirky irreverence. None of the characters feel entirely fleshed out, and are instead presented more like passengers on a plot line that prioritises events over individuals. The movie's eventual 'twist', meanwhile, is legitimately surprising to those unfamiliar with the Bre-X story, however its reveal so close to the end renders the remaining few minutes far too rushed to sufficiently deal with its impact and implications.