Sunday 5 February 2017

Movie Review: Gold (2016)

A tattered rags to prospective riches story inspired by real events, Gold is a reasonably satisfying escapade through the rollercoaster world of gold stock promotions. The film draws some energy from a scrappy and desperate central character, but then idles instead of soaring.

In Nevada, Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey) is a down-on-his-luck mining stock promoter, down to his last penny and barely able to support his long-time girlfriend Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard). Desperate to reverse his fortune, Kenny travels to Indonesia and connects with geologist Michael Acosta (Édgar Ramírez), who harbours unproven theories about rich gold deposits deep in the Indonesian jungle.

Kenny and his coterie of similarly luckless penny stock promoters work the phones and raise enough cash to get Acosta's drilling operations up and running. No gold is found in the early samples and Kenny contracts malaria in the Indonesian jungle. With the money about to run out, the analysis lab starts to report rich gold content from the latest core samples. Kenny and Michael find themselves sitting on the biggest gold find in decades. Kenny's life is turned upside down, but profiteers in the form of bankers, large mining companies and the Indonesian government soon move in.

Inspired by the fact-is-stranger-than-fiction Bre-X scandal, Gold has a humdinger of a story to work with. And in Kenny Wells, the film finds a unique perspective, a prematurely aging, overweight, sweaty sad man with failure labelled on his receding hairline but still hoping for that life changing gold discovery. The front end of the film hums on the fuel of Wells edging ever nearer to the cliff of abject failure, having lost his father's business, reduced to making phone calls out of a bar and gambling everything on a final Hail Mary play to reverse his fortune.

But as directed by Stephen Gaghan, Gold becomes strangely subdued and loses momentum in its second half. As the drama shifts from the last-roll-of-the-dice rigours of prospecting to dealing with the aftermath of a massive gold find, the film suffers by sticking too closely with Wells. Rightfully or not, the global ripple effects of a multi-billion dollar gold strike become much bigger than one man, and the film sidelines itself by narrowly focusing on a small hustler who is now a misfit in a much larger game. Kenny does matter, but he matters a lot less when the big players move in and the entire mining sector is shaken to its foundations.

This does not stop McConaughey from delivering a committed performance, nailing the bug-eyed desperation of a small-time operator whose very survival depends on fake confidence. The supporting cast includes small roles for Bruce Greenwood, Craig T. Nelson and Stacy Keach.

Gold has decent sprinklings of stuff that glitters, but misses the motherlode.

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