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Movie Review: #Gold

Two small-time prospectors go against big corporate greed in the dull and tedious Gold.

Review by Matt Cummings

There's little in the 90's period piece Gold that glistens with anything more than a modestly good time. While it tries desperately to suggest that the little guy can still get one over on big corporate baddies, the end result looks and feels like a ton of better stuff we've seen in the past few years. You'll also likely find the gluttony of greed, smoking, and drinking to overshadow what could have been a genuine Oscar contender.

Kenny (McGonaughey) is a slick-talking salesman of the gold industry, a deeply emotional and independent figure who's waiting for the one chance to make his millions. But as the country spirals into a recession, Kenny finds his company gone and his crew working out of a bar where girlfriend Kay (a surprisingly plump Bryce Dallas Howard) pours him an endless supply of drinks. Facing rising debt and a bar tab he cannot pay, Kenny is gifted one last chance: he mortgages Kay's house and pawns her jewelry to visit the geologist Acosta (Edgar Ramirez) who can't get anyone to mine in far-off Indonesia. When the location yields incredible finds, Kenny and Acosta are vaulted to the top of corporate world, facing snakes like a New York investment banker (Corey Stoll) and a billionaire competitor (Bruce Greenwood). But a deep deception is about to occur, one that will test Kenny's indefatigable outlook and pit him against his investors and even the FBI.

Gold does absolutely nothing new in terms of style, nor does its message about greed-eating-greed stay with you after the lights come up. The idea of watching a potbellied McConaughey drinking and smoking his way through this rags-riches-rags-riches-rag-riches storyline is only good if you like to see what fat, balding men look like in tighty whities. Yes, McConaughey struts around in them like he owns the place, and for awhile you root for his story as he finally gets his shot at the big time. But then it's more drinking and smoking behind those fake buck teeth and you wonder if this is all Gold is meant to be. There's little more to it - and therefore less in the end - which undermines Director Stephen Gaghan's nice-looking film.

Gold is solidly shot by Cinematographer Robert Elswit, who bathes us in 90's grain and gorgeous jungle scenes. We get the harshness of prospecting, the way it brings out the worst in men, and the all-too-familiar lesson about American corporate greed, but there's little else of worth here. Once Kenny has been exposed as the slick-talking victim left out to dry, we really don't have much more in us to follow him. He evolves into a boob and scapegoat rather than remaining the fighter McConaughey and Gaghan envision for him. What happens after that in a whipsaw end scene is a measure of generosity and a commentary on just how strong Kenny and Acosta's friendship is. This relationship, expertly carried out by McGonaughey and Ramirez, is perhaps the best part of the film. But the situation is completely out of Kenny's control and feels like a plot device camouflaged as a Hail Mary to replenish our view of him.

Moreover, Gold employs a worn-out formula to win us over, filling our ears with era-specific music that arrives at exactly the right time while trying to look like The Wolf of Wall Street in the process. Greed sports lavish lifestyle choices for Kenny, his clan, and the companies that line up to 'help him', employing corporate greed as the black hat. Think 2015's The Big Short with the exact same visual elements on display. But they also expect us to know little if anything about its characters' history or the financial crisis Bre-X nearly caused; that's so they can bend the story for maximum dramatic effect. There's the ubiquitous voice over, attempting to neatly tie up the film's heavy-handed mining and economic terminology. And there's the moment when our once-fearless couple break apart because greed has consumed Kenny. It's all by-the-numbers film making, and that wouldn't be so bad if it didn't then expect us to reward it for its Oscar aspirations. Tough luck. Gold

Gold should have been at least 10 minutes shorter, as a flashback opener with Kenny's father (Craig T. Nelson) is totally unneeded; but it just keeps meandering, unwilling to settle down into a fitting conclusion which includes multiple endings and a final scene that only feels like it has more story to tell. It's as if Writers Patrick Massett and John Zinman felt that these twists were necessary to keep the audience's attention, and that's where it misses the point. This shouldn't be a story about emerging corporate greed running over the little guy (that's Founder), nor one about the mistakes people make seeking their brass ring (that's Fences), or how one man can win over corporate America (that's Hell or High Water). Gold feels like something we've seen so many times recently, with many of them failing to grasp the attention of The Academy. This one isn't any different.

Gold doesn't really amount to much of anything, because so many endings come and go (including the last confusing scene) that it never delivers the emotional punch (and Oscar noms) Gaghan was hoping for. It just goes to prove how Hollywood takes good ideas and pounds them into the ground until you can't recognize them from the dozens of exact copies it was designed to emulate.

Gold is rated R for language throughout and some sexuality/nudity and has a runtime of 121 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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