GOLD Review

Kenny Wells is a mess and that is pretty evident from the moment he appears on screen hoping to charm the curls right out of Bryce Dallas Howard's eighties frizzled hair, but even as he does this it's easy to tell there is no real thought behind his actions other than what the immediate rewards might be. This is key to understanding the type of mentality we'll be working with for the next two hours as Wells is a man who believes himself lucky to have been born into a family that started a mining company and who intends to carry it on even after the death of his father (Craig T. Nelson). Wells takes the idea from his father that they don't necessarily have to do this for a living as it's a crap shoot of a business, but instead pride themselves of getting to do this for a living. The question they're seemingly missing the answer to though, is the ever-present why? What are they doing this for? Seven years on after the passing of the elder Wells and Matthew McConaughey's Kenny has his men working out of a bar, trying to keep a lid on expenses, and coming up short in seemingly everything, but chiefly in keeping his family's business afloat. As a man who can't help but to try and survive for the next few weeks rather than the next twenty years Wells sees no other option other than to do whatever it takes to keep that business running. He is a man who puts a lot of stock in legacy in the way that he seems to inherently ask himself how proud his father would be were he to still be alive-would he be happy with what Kenny has done with their business? After the rather stirring opening and tone-setting title card fade away it becomes pretty clear that Kenny Wells is in a position neither his father nor his grandfather ever found themselves in. The guy is desperate to find backers for digs that no one believes in and that no one seems to believe will yield any results. Sure, Wells has responsibilities to his employees that are dedicated enough to work out of that aforementioned bar, to Howard's Kay who has stuck with him still and now works at that same bar as a waitress most of the time doubling as his secretary, but the biggest responsibility Kenny feels is clearly to that legacy he is set to taint. And so, Wells takes a chance, a risk-one that could fail just as easy as it could succeed, but one that perfectly encapsulates and sets the stage for how this protagonist McConaughey fully commits to will operate in the mostly entertaining circumstances Gold presents.   
Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey) and Mike Acosta (Edgar Ramirez) team up to find a gold mine.
Photo by Patrick Brown - © 2015 - The Weinstein Company
This risk is on well-renowned geologist Mike Acosta (Edgar Ramirez) who developed a theory about certain parts of Indonesia where he believes untapped gold mines are sitting. Taking enough of Kay's jewelry to pawn himself a plane ticket Wells books a trip to Indonesia and a meeting with Acosta in a last ditch effort to have him lead an operation that Wells' boys will find the funding for as long as Acosta can yield some gold that might turn their misfortunes into one big fortune. The trials and tribulations come as expected and as hard as Wells' men are working back home to keep the funding flowing there never seems to be enough time or money for Acosta to locate the gold he expected to be found where they made camp. Wells picks up a bad case of malaria and is in and out of a daze for weeks; waking up only intermittently to receive more bad news from Acosta. In one of these short, but consistently negative meetings Wells hands over the last $2,300 he has to his name and in the form of credit cards no less. When Wells regains better health a few weeks later he awakes to Acosta sitting across from him telling him the deed is done-that they have found their gold mine. From here, things could have easily taken off and gone the way many no doubt expect it to-the fast rise of Kenny Wells and his even faster fall; forgetting those who helped him get to this place of prominence along the way, but it never does and Wells never disappoints in terms of personal relations. If anything, Wells proves to be a guy we very much like and are in tune with as a viewer despite the off-putting appearance McConaughey has conjured up for him. The bigger the gold find though, the more sticky fingers there are to swat away and McConaughey's Wells finds more than a few formidable opponents who look to get into business with him including Brian Woolf (Corey Stoll) a rich banker looking to take the hay seed from McConaughey through his firm run by always welcome character actor Bill Camp. Bruce Greenwood also shows up with an accent playing the guy who owns the majority of the gold mines on the planet as he's looking to make a deal with Wells, but none of these characters come to play as pivotal a role in determining Wells' future as we might expect, but rather that is FBI Agent Paul Jennings (Toby Kebbell) who doesn't show up until an hour into the film and alters its course and our expectations completely.

This added layer, this change in approach is to the benefit of the film overall though, giving it a greater substance than might have otherwise been suspected. Some of the film feels like McConaughey was inspired by his small turn in The Wolf of Wall Street and wanted to make something akin to that film-the eighties setting, the vulgar displays of wealth, the outlandish protagonist we might love to hate-but once this turn is revealed Gold becomes about something more. There is a decisive perspective put in place and from this moment on the stakes feel higher (which is saying something when the first hour depended on our heroes finding actual gold in the rain forests of Indonesia), the tension is greater, and even the pacing of the movie feels more in line with the intention. Whereas the first act somewhat rambles on through the stop and go nature of the digging operation the second half of the film introduces counter players and multiple conflicts-both personal and professional-that give the film an urgency it was lacking. Overall though, director Stephen Gaghan (Syriana) keeps his film centered enough on what matters that we never feel disassociated with the rate at which the narrative is progressing and that is through character. It is in the character of Wells, the friendship he develops with Acosta, and the cavalcade of supporting players that drift in and out of their world the keep viewers engaged. The key here being McConaughey as Wells with Gaghan being smart enough to keep his camera trained on the actor who is giving this character all he has to give including the noted physical appearance that may not have been totally necessary, but doesn't hurt in emphasizing certain facets of the character. Despite the fact that in less than seven years Wells has gone from a guy that resembles McConaughey to a guy that couldn't be further from the stars generally marquee looks isn't enough to stop him from drinking or smoking in nearly every scene of the film let alone the fact his business is failing. Of course, this was no doubt part of McConaughey's thought process as the fact this guy is a total mess only makes him more endearing. He never forgets the little people, but in fact tries to look out for them. He was never really in it for the money, but rather for the love of the game-he just got in over his head.

Wells' long-time girlfriend Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard) relishes in the new found wealth of her other half.
Photo by Atsushi Nishijima - © 2015 - The Weinstein Company
Despite the failed Oscar campaign and sometimes shoddy craftsmanship of the film (this is especially apparent in the Indonesian scenes) Gold is a movie that feels light on its feet while chronicling the darker sides of an industry based solely on luck. While this is Wells' story, screenwriters Patrick Massett and John Zinman build the world of the decade and more importantly, his industry, around their protagonist in order to highlight the balls on this guy we've been designated to follow. This idea, this process of counting on a questionable destination to justify all the effort one might have put in is enough to drive anyone crazy. There are no doubt large amount of studies and research put into locating where gold is likely to be found, but there is always a risk and one more or less has to convince themselves there is something out there to be found even though the odds favor as much never coming to pass. All prospectors do the same thing, but those with more money and better reputations probably get lucky more often than those that don't. The essence of the industry is to never stop believing there is something out there to be found and it is through this line of thought that Gold both lives up to and debunks the mythology surrounding such a profession. McConaughey and Ramirez's rapport and the relationship that develops between the two of them in the midst of navigating this industry is what the film leans on most to shape itself with both actors delivering performances that have us on board with their plights, never questioning their integrity, thus leading to the overall picture going in directions we might not necessarily expect, but fully appreciate. There is plenty to enjoy about Gold including small moments post-gold find where Wells' company, Washoe Mining, decorates their new offices as it's filled with little comedic touches that give the project that light tone. The same could be said for Daniel Pemberton's score as it never reduces itself to serious drama sounds, but rather has a sheen to it just like its titular mineral. Gaghan also utilizes certain aesthetics from the eighties not just in his production design, but in the way he composes his shots to make his movie look more like films from that era so as to better elicit the feeling of that time period. All of this combines to create a richly fun package that may not ever reach the prestigious heights it was initially positioned to, but it's vastly compelling and consistently interesting and that counts for a lot in January.