Any scandal should be the perfect recipe for a compelling drama, and Gold is based on one of the greatest frauds in history, the 1993 Bre-X mining scandal. This is a story that involves hundreds of millions of dollars lost and lives ruined. But somehow Stephen Gaghan, whose past works include Traffic (2000) and Syriana (2005), manages to make the story fall flat. Part of the blame can be attributed on the uninspired performances of the actors, but Gold cannot find a fitting theme and cannot properly utilize its bloated cast. The result is a film that is mildly entertaining but not particularly compelling.
Gold tells the story of Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey), who inherits Washoe Mining Company when his father dies. Seven years later, the commodities market has crashed and Washoe is nearly bankrupt. Its employees have moved from their offices to work out of a local bar. Desperate to save his father’s dream, Kenny heads to Indonesia to seek out Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez), a disgraced geologist who has a “ring of fire” theory that would supposedly lead to massive amounts of gold. His theory turned out to be nonsense, and now no one will back him, but Kenny is desperate.. Together, Acosta and Kenny throw every penny they have into searching for gold in the Indonesian jungle. Incredibly, they find the greatest gold strike of the decade. Investors pour in, saving Washoe Mining. Kenny goes from rags to riches, and everything begins to look up. It all seems too good to be true.
Gaghan focuses on Kenny and Michael’s rise to the top rather than on the seemingly more compelling story of their fall from grace. The gamble does not pay off. Part of this is due to McConaughey and Ramirez’s performances. According to Wells’ dialogue, he and Acosta are the best of friends, but their real life chemistry is not evident from watching their interactions. McConaughey and Ramirez look uneasy around each other at best and on completely different pages for most of the film. Ramirez’s performance is particularly underwhelming; he delivers his lines as though he were reading them for the first time and without emotion.. Kenny, on the other hand, is portrayed as peak McConaughey. The dimestore philosophizing and smooth southern speech may be perfect for the mysterious Rust in True Detective, but it feels wildly out of place for the greedy, stupid alcoholic Kenny Wells. There are other interesting, albeit underutilized, characters in Gold such as Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard), Kenny’s wife who is alienated by his suddenly lavish lifestyle and fearful that he may be taken advantage of. Sadly, all of this information is delivered in only one scene, and Kay has no meaningful dialogue before or afterwards.
Gold struggles to establish an overarching theme because it is unclear what message the movie wants to send about this heinous fraud. At times, Geghan appears to send contradictory messages. In several scenes Kenny berates bankers for not doing any work themselves, but Geghan never shows Kenny getting his hands dirty. In fact, Kenny is unwittingly the owner of a fraudulent mining company. It sounds almost intentionally satirical, but it is clearly not intentional because Geghan portrays Kenny as nothing if not sympathetic. The lack of a theme can be distracting and Gold would have likely benefitted from a greater exploration of Kenny’s life after the fraud is exposed.
Ultimately, Gold is not unwatchable. It has good pacing, a strong soundtrack, and the always fascinating McConaughey. That being said, if you are looking for a story of a greedy business owner who commits fraud and falls from grace, do yourself a favor and watch Wolf of Wall Street again.