Gold (15)

three stars

Dir: Stephen Gaghan

With: Matthew McConaughey, Edgar Ramírez, Bryce Dallas Howard

Runtime: 121 minutes

TIME was when Stephen Gaghan’s drama, Gold, might have been in with a shout for one of those shiny statuettes the Academy will be handing out on February 26. A takedown of the kind of high-octane greed and speculation that lead to financial crashes, it stars Matthew McConaughey in all his sweaty, bouncing-off-the-walls, Wolf of Wall Street and Dallas Buyers Club glory.

Alas, Scorsese’s Wolf (2013) and Adam McKay’s The Big Short (2015) beat Gold to the punch when it came to skewering Wall Street. As for McConaughey, he is on fine form in Gold, but those in the running for best actor (particularly Ryan Gosling, La La Land, Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea, and Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge) are at the centre of infinitely better pictures.

That is not to say that Gold is entirely a bust. Gaghan, the writer/director of Syriana, a morality tale about the workings of the oil industry) knows a good yarn, even if his film does not tell it as well as it might.

Gold finds Gaghan turning his gaze from oil to another much sought after commodity. Kenny Wells (McConaughey) is a modern day prospector. Not for him standing in a river panning for treasure; he works out of a bar, chasing up leads and trying to convince small investors to take a punt on the latest new claim. In short, Kenny, as far as the American dream goes, is an 18-carat loser.

McConaughey goes into full method actor mode to play Wells, piling on the pounds, shaving his head, and inserting some truly bad, almost British, teeth. It would be hard to recognise him, if not for that famous voice and grin.

As he heads for rock-bottom financially, Kenny remembers Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramírez, The Bourne Ultimatum, Joy), a geologist who became famous after a lucrative find. Could Acosta work a miracle again in a place, Indonesia, that Kenny has a good feeling about? It is not just a good feeling: the notion that there is gold in them thar jungles of Borneo has come to him in a dream, no less. Using the last of his money, he persuades Acosta to come on board.

The tale that follows is, as the posters proclaim, “based on a too good to be true story”. It is only too believable, however, when seen as an example of how avarice can make otherwise sane people take leave of their senses. Does not every economic bubble that bursts start with investors chasing a dream?

Gaghan’s film is at its best in the scenes showing Wells and Acosta scrabbling through the mud in Indonesia, the data-driven geologist and the hot-headed prospector. There is a lot of nice interplay, too, between McConaughey and Bryce Dallas Howard, playing Kay, the girlfriend who has stuck by the hard-drinking Wells in the bad times, always picking him up when his spirit hits the floor.

It is only later, when news of what Wells and Acosta have found filters back to America, that the story becomes bogged down. The big boys on Wall Street spy an opportunity, as does a bigger prospecting firm, but will Wells let go of his dream?

Gaghan and his screenwriters Patrick Massett and John Zinman have a twisty tale to tell, but they make too many turns, leaving the audience feeling dizzy. Just when the story looks to be looping cleanly towards the home stretch it tears back to Indonesia to take in more plot. Apart from being the occasion for a terrific scene between McConaughey and a prince of the Indonesian jungle, this section adds little to the picture except more scope for confusion. Adding to this problem, you are highly likely to see the ending coming a mile off.

Ramirez and Howard turn in engaging performances. Howard has a pretty thankless task with the familiar role of put-upon girlfriend, but she shines, and the cool Ramirez takes the temperature of the piece down a notch when it needs it. McConaughey, as ever, is always worth investing time in.