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Truth, like gold, is to be obtained not by its growth, but by washing away from it all that is not gold. – Leo Tolstoy
When you think of mining prospectors, the vision of an old toothless madman panning for gold in the 1800s is what may come to mind. This Hollywood vision of a long tradition of people who seek to ‘Find gold in them there hills!’ minimizes a tradition that dates back to the first individuals who desired to pull something of value out of the Earth. Gold provides a true-to-life glimpse into the extreme highs and lows of the perilous journey of prospecting.
Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey) is the modern embodiment of the mining prospector. Instead of a pickaxe, he and his company are reliant on modern technologies to find these precious minerals. The means to extract the minerals may have changed, but the only thing that has not changed are the need for intuition and a burning desire to dig into the ground and hopefully become rich in the process. In the 1980s, Wells and geologist Michael Acosta (Édgar Ramírez) seek to find gold in the jungles of Indonesia. Risking their reputations, relationships, health and every last dollar to their names, they manage to strike gold and discover what was considered to be one of the largest deposits of golden rock in history. These modern prospectors mine begins to see the money and the investors come in, but as gold fever reaches its heights something goes wrong in Indonesia that no one expects.
Based on the true story of the Canadian Bre-X mining incident in 1993, Gold shows that this shining mineral has an ability to cause people to do foolish things for the prospect of getting rich. Director Stephen Gaghan (Syriana) adds a bit of artistic license to the original story to introduce the world to the speculative and volatile world of mining prospects. It offers a fascinating glimpse into this world of a business that is riddled with manipulation, backbiting and the opportunity for vast amounts of cash at the end of the proverbial rainbow. Gaghan mines the depths of this talent pool of actors and benefits from McConaughey’s willingness to embody the sleazy character of Kenny Wells. Like his award-winning role in Dallas Buyers Club, he fully commits to the physical manifestation of the alcoholic but driven prospector. Even with the additional weight and the shaved head he retains the larrikin cheekiness of his southern charm. Supported by the intensity of Ramirez and the strong performance of his naive girlfriend that is delivered by Bryce Dallas Howard. With this fascinating story and the vast array of talent, this looks to be cinematic gold and the potential for a darling of the award season, but like the Bre-X scandal, things are not as they seem.
Gaghan manages to capture the 1980’s and the industry but fails to find any characters that retain any audience appeal. McConaughey’s character seems to remain in one earnest gear and never allows the audience to side with him in achieving his goals. Even the partnership between the Wells and Acosta characters never makes sense. Outside of their financial commitment to one another, the loyalty between these two driven men is hard to believe. Which does cause some of the story to derail because it’s key for the acceptance of the narrative. There is the tension of the mining operation, boardroom theatrics and corrupt governments that provide the potential drama and allure of this world, but none of it helps to gain the momentum needed to hold the audience’s attention.
Even with a compelling story and capable cast that gives this film the needed sparkle, the end result is a mining expedition that comes up empty.