If the likes of Mud, Interstellar, Dallas Buyers Club, True Dectective and The Wolf of Wall Street haven’t convinced you of The McConaughey Effect, something must be wrong with you. Go see your GP, or a shrink, or simply watch those films again to remind you the potent resurgence of the once typecast and perennially pigeonholed Hollywood romcom gagster-turned-Method-actor. In pure fashion, he turns in a committed performance in his latest star vehicle, this Weinstein-produced rise-and-fall drama Gold. And by committed, I mean the kind of stomach-paunching, teeth-protruding and balding, grease-licked horridness that only a committed actor can dare disappear into and then later emerge with award nominations (while looking good in a tux, natch).
Think Christian Bale in American Hustle. It’s that kind of performance, one that’s given enough mad glint to keep you awake throughout Stephen Gaghan’s Gold, which is truly, without McConaughey stealing and chewing every scene he’s in, a veritably uninspired bore. For a story that packs plenty of absurdity as well as a potentially Conradian quest for wealth, Gold ends up somewhat lacklustre, never really fully mining the trenchant potential of its material. On paper, this could have been a near-perfect cautionary tale of man’s pursuit of physical wealth colliding with capitalism, one that’s pitched somewhere in between The Wolf of Wall Street and American Hustle. But the result ends up aping both Scorcese and Russell, failing to acquire its own stride and personality.
For a story that packs plenty of absurdity as well as a potentially Conradian quest for wealth, Gold ends up somewhat lacklustre, never really fully mining the trenchant potential of its material.
The narrative drags McConaughey’s broke stock promoter Kenny Wells (loosely based on the Canadian David Walsh of the Bre-X mining scandal) from America all the way to Indonesia to discover an untapped gold mine in the middle of the Bornean jungle, which sounds incredibly exciting but executed with such lumbering lack of craft. Instead of giving us a portrait of maddening toil, Gaghan resorts to montage after montage of gold digging, where Wells is unsubtly revealed as some sort of a fraud, ill with malaria, while his geologist partner Acosta (an adequate Édgar Ramírez) does the real graft in unearthing the treasure.
When the action finally arrives in the Wall Street scene, Gaghan throws in split screens and 80s mixtape soundtrack to enliven things up, but the film still never gets to breathe its own cinematic oxygen. It’s all recycled air, with characters ending up behaving like walking stereotypes (I’m looking at Bryce Dallas Howard, who suddenly seesaws from fully supportive spouse to embittered wife in a matter of one argument scene). The only time when Gold really feels like working its own DNA is when the narrative reveals the fraudulence behind the gold find, where it finally finds the American Dream satire that’s buried deep in the material, but it’s too little too late. And we’re subsequently thrown back into the McConaughey Show, where the actor is left to mine what little emotion the screenplay requires as a fitting conclusion. That even a very good actor can’t save a piece of nondescript screenwriting as this.