2017, R, 121 min. Directed by Stephen Gaghan. Starring Matthew McConaughey, Édgar Ramírez, Bryce Dallas Howard, Joshua Harto, Timothy Simons, Michael Landes, Corey Stoll, Toby Kebbell, Bruce Greenwood, Stacy Keach, Bill Camp, Rachael Taylor, Macon Blair, Bhavesh Patel.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Jan. 27, 2017

The title is Gold, but this film does not glisten – although that’s not to say that there aren’t some swell moments in this adventure drama about an American dreamer. The majority of those moments belong to Matthew McConaughey, who stars as Kenny Wells, a mineral prospector with the soul of a wildcatter. With his potbellied gut, balding strands of hair, and snaggletooth, Wells hardly looks the part of an American icon of can-do spirit and drive (at least as they’re portrayed in the movies). Often seen in his crummy underwear, and almost always with a cigarette and drink in hand, McConaughey brings a knowing fleshiness to the character. Yet the film’s uneven tone leaves us with lasting uncertainty about his character and the events we have witnessed.

Loosely based on the story of the Canadian Bre-X gold-mining scandal of the mid-Nineties, screenwriters Patrick Massett and John Zinman (who have worked mostly in television, including a notable run writing for Friday Night Lights) have transposed the events into an American saga, and decked it out with all the trappings of a national object lesson. The combination of financial derring-do and the myth of the self-made American millionaire is in the spirit of recent films like The Big Short and The Wolf of Wall Street. Or perhaps a better analogy is director Stephen Gaghan’s Syriana, an intricate tale about the winners and losers in the business of oil.

Following the general outline of the Bre-X debacle, Gold spins a good yarn about a Reno, Nev., prospector who has gone broke after inheriting a successful mining company from his father. Living with his girlfriend (Howard, in an underwritten role as his all-American honest reflection) and working out of the bar where she waitresses, Wells comes up with a Hail Mary idea to contact the legendary geologist Michael Acosta (Ramírez). No sooner does Wells pawn his watch and girlfriend’s jewelry than he’s in Indonesia backing Acosta and a team of workers boring into the earth. Malaria, greedy bankers, a hostile takeover bid, the machinations of Indonesia’s ruling Suharto family, and massive fraud all unfold before the movie reaches its ambiguous final scene.

For a story about such high-stakes gambles, Gold takes few of its own. Robert Elswit’s cinematography is lovely, and McConaughey is a hoot to watch, but Ramírez is a dull foil for McConaughey’s fantasist. For the first half of the film, Wells relates his tale with what seems like an excessive amount of voiceover until his questioner is belatedly revealed, but the damage of the first impression is already done. Most of all, we are never sure whether Wells is meant to be seen as a self-deluded boob chasing get-rich-quick schemes or a just-smart-enough oddball chasing the American dream. The film reaches an uneven plateau where it mines for gold, but in the end comes up with little of precious value.

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Gold, Stephen Gaghan, Matthew McConaughey, Édgar Ramírez, Bryce Dallas Howard, Joshua Harto, Timothy Simons, Michael Landes, Corey Stoll, Toby Kebbell, Bruce Greenwood, Stacy Keach, Bill Camp, Rachael Taylor, Macon Blair, Bhavesh Patel

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