Gold – Film Review by Pat V.
Director: Stephen Gaghan
Writers: Patrick Massett, John Zinman
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Edgar Ramírez, Bryce Dallas Howard
There is nothing unpredictable in Stephan Gaghan’s (The Alamo, Syriana) new film based loosely on the Bre-X Minerals scandal of 1998 when massive gold deposits, supposedly discovered in the jungles of Indonesia, were shown to be a fraud. Thousands of investors in the mining company lost their savings and the police investigation and subsequent court case dragged on for the next 15 years.
Gaghan’s film centres on Kenny Wells (an indefatigable Matthew McConaughey) who has a dream one night that there is gold to be found in the heartlands of Indonesia. When we first meet him in 1981, he is heir apparent to his father’s successful mining company, clinching deals and charming customers, and seems to have the world at his feet. The film cuts to seven years later. An almost unrecognisable McConaughey sporting a receding hairline (with the obligatory comb-over) and a spreading paunch shows us that life has not been kind to Wells in the interim. His father is dead and he is unable to get any financial backing for his rapidly failing company. Then comes the dream and the memory of a geologist whom he had met years previously on a visit to Indonesia and who had expounded strange theories of how to find undiscovered wealth in the earth.
Pawning his girlfriend’s jewellery to buy an airline ticket, he flies to Jakarta where he meets up with the geologist, Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez). Together they travel into the jungle to a valley where, Acosta assures him, gold is to be found. After many problems and disappointments, and a bout of malaria which nearly kills him, success seems on the horizon for Wells and he returns to New York the toast of the town and the envy of Wall Street. But life is rarely that simple. Wells’s fortunes ebb and flow like a spring tide and it is only his eternal optimism and boundless energy that get him through.
McConaughey certainly earned his money for his role in this film. Apart from the dramatic alterations he was asked to make to his body shape (not at all clear why these were necessary!), he has to spend long periods wallowing in mud holes or waist-deep in rivers. And the endless monsoon rains he endures are worse even than the Limerick weather of Angela’s Ashes! His performance, however, is riveting and he inhabits the role with total conviction. Ramirez too is excellent and the charismatic bond between the two men is always believable.
In fact it would be hard to fault any of the performances in the film though the “wolves” of Wall Street border on caricature. The film, however, lacks any real tension. There were moments when it was impossible not to long for a fast-forward button. Possibly because Wells always seems to roll with the punches and tells us straight out that the money is not important for him, it is hard to really care whether he is successful in his enterprises or not. And the fact that it is obvious that all loose ends, financial and emotional, will be tied up, leaves us further disengaged.
Robert Elswit’s cinematography is often stunning and McConaughey’s performance is memorable but one comes away feeling that overall the film is much ado about very little.
(An interesting footnote. David Walsh, the president of Bre-X, on whom McConaughey’s character is based, was attacked in his home in 1998, soon after the revelation of the fraud, by two masked gunmen who threatened to kill him unless he turned over the money. Though he was not injured, he died of a brain aneurysm three weeks later)