The Matthew McConaughey that appears in Gold is not so much the annoyingly charming star of too many questionable rom-coms, and more the overly-energised, eye-popping, slightly manic Matthew McConaughey who played Mark Hanna in The Wolf Of Wall Street. In Gold, McConaughey takes that persona, adds about thirty kilograms and significant degrees of schlub, and ups the twitchy and the manic to close to breaking point.
Gold is the story — based on a true one, we’re told — of Kenny Wells, son of a prospecting family in Nevada who has seen his late father’s fortune all but disappear. Close to collapse, he hocks his girlfriend’s gold watch to buy a plane ticket to Indonesia (played by Thailand in the film) on the strength of a vision he’s had in a Seagrams-induced dream of a massive gold deposit somewhere in that country. So off he goes, tracking down an old friend, Michael Acosta, who, conveniently for Wells, is still in country and still available to drop everything and hike into the hinterland, where, as luck would have it, they end up finding a monstrously rich goldmine.
The film, then, hinges almost entirely on McConaughey’s Wells, and the descent into madness that accompanies the ups and downs of his fortunes as his company struggles to get funding, is manipulated, and variously flies high and plummets. McConaughey manages to rein in the twitchinesses and tics for the most part, keeping his depiction of Wells just this side of engaging. Wells, then, becomes less a money-grabber and more a driven man whose need to find gold is presented as a purer, more honest pursuit; the billions of dollars he stands to make are, presumably, a nice bonus.
But McConaughey is the only meaningful presence on the screen. Edgar Ramírez as Acosta is agreeably brooding and mysterious, but while Wells’ motivations are clear, Acosta’s are much less well-defined — he exists solely to serve Wells’ needs. Bryce Dallas Howard’s Kay is simply a foil for Wells — the story could, very nearly, have been told completely in her absence. But at least these are named characters. More disappointing is the treatment of the Indonesian mine workers who dig up the ore that Wells hopes will hold his gold — one has a single-word speaking part, and none have names, but are instead dismissed simply as cogs in the white man’s machine. It’s not a good look, but, to be fair, Wells’ sales team in Nevada hardly fair much better — if they have names, I didn’t catch them, and they serve as little more than a backing band for Wells’ main event.
So Gold’s not a bad film, but on balance it’s really not a terribly brilliant one either. McConaughey is a very engaging screen presence, and he does bring a certain amount of passion — and a most impressive paunch — to the roll. But it’s a somewhat one-note film, relying more than is ideal on his intensity and giving other characters less room to breathe.