One need look no further than the newly styled Oval Office to see the allure of gold. But two prizes hold even more allure than gold: recognition and respect. In Gold, a twisty “Inspired by True Events” drama, underdog mining executive Kenny Wells wants respect—including self-respect that goes deeper than false bravado—more than anything. And for a while, he gets it in spades.
But this is a get-rich-quick story, another fable of boom that’s inevitably on its way to bust. In 1981 Reno, times are good for the Washoe Mining Corporation, with Kenny (Matthew McConaughey) looking up to the father (Craig T. Nelson) who inherited the business from Kenny’s hardscrabble grandfather and built it into a thriving one in plush high-rise offices. Fast forward to 1988, and Kenny’s dad has passed on, leaving the son the family legacy and a great deal of pressure, exacerbated by the business having fallen on tough times on his watch. Like Ray Kroc in the theater next door, Wells wills faith in himself and his dream vision of a big gold strike.
He finds just the man he needs to enable that vision—geologist-with-a-knack Michael Acosta (Édgar Ramírez)—and hitches Washoe to his star. “River walker” Acosta holds to a “Ring of Fire” theory pinpointing a massive vein just waiting to be mined in the Indonesian jungle. With Kenny scraping bottom, funding the expedition will take all the bluster he can muster. But the expedition comes together and Washoe strikes it rich: the gamble has paid off. And Kenny Wells’ problems have just begun.
Directed by Stephen Gaghan (Syriana), Gold cannot help but be compared to Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, a film that more successfully sought Oscar “gold” by looking at the precipitous rise and fall of a businessman and related stock values. It’s not an especially favorable comparison: Gold feels less incisive and certainly less energetic than Scorsese’s film, for despite Gaghan’s track record as screenwriter (he won the Oscar for scripting Stephen Soderbergh’s Traffic), and even assuming an uncredited rewrite pass, he’s working from a “meh” screenplay credited to Patrick Massett and John Zinman (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider).
Gold’s best asset, coincidentally or not, also hails from The Wolf of Wall Street: McConaughey. The star goes paunchy and balding to physicalize Wells’ need, and his one-man show gives the picture its energy (along with a slew of period source music, itself a Scorsesean touch). Ramírez offers strong support as the warier Acosta, who’s both concerned by and impressed with Wells’ whirling-dervish approach to business. Gold also features fine turns from Bryce Dallas Howard as Kenny’s haplessly loyal wife, Corey Stoll as a ruthless investor, and Toby Kebbell as an FBI investigator.
Gold works best as a character study of Wells, a man who’s neither good (he’s a prideful figure with a moral blindspot) nor bad (he’s gracious in victory, giving a promotion where he could justifiably fire someone). In its broader themes of “selling a story” to investors and the blinding power of money, Gold has little new to offer, but in its particulars—the character of Acosta (based on real-life figure Michael de Guzman), for instance, and the sad hustle of McConaughey’s Wells—finds deposits rich enough to make the trip worthwhile.