The man behind the McConaissance makes his most monstrous transformation yet – but is it enough to make Gold glimmer?
⭐ ⭐ ⭐
In the 1980s, down-on-his-luck businessman Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey) throws the last of his money into a partnership with geologist Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez) to dig for gold in the uncharted jungles of Borneo. The jungle is indeed a goldmine, and Kenny soon finds himself skyrocketing to the top; envisioning a big future for himself and his girlfriend Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard). Being at the top isn’t as golden as it seems though; as years pass and the empire grows, a whole manner of complications threaten to send everything unravelling.
Gold left me wondering; have we reached the end of the McConaissance? The once unbearable king of crappy rom-coms turned Oscar winner and Hollywood’s most exciting character actor appears to, quite disappointingly, be on his way to putting out the fire he ignited across the screen just a few short years ago. The dreadfully dull The Sea of Trees was the first stumble, followed by the similarly plodding Free State of Jones, and if Stephen Gaghan’s Gold isn’t quite strike three, it does come awfully close to toppling over the actor’s dramatic career.
There is of course a strong argument to be made against this; McConaughey still happens to be the best part of each of these films. And Gold sees him back in fully transformative, awards baiting action. Physically, businessman Kenny Wells is McConaughey at his most unattractive yet – the mere sight of the formerly hunky dude sporting a giant gut, balding mullet, protruding crooked teeth, and sweating while he knocks back glasses of whiskey and chainsmokes is a shock, worthy of something in between a laugh, gasp and awe. His commitment to the role is remarkable, but Kenny’s characterisation by writers Patrick Massett and John Zinman is a little questionable.
The pair don’t seem quite sure how exactly to paint Kenny, so the ugly exterior of the man often ends up contradicting the man himself. Kenny does have his ugly moments; drunkenly fighting with Kay, putting riches before her needs and getting into shouting matches with the people who try to buy him out. But he isn’t a man entirely consumed by greed; he flicks inconsistently and erratically between doing anything for a glittering nugget to making sacrifices for his girlfriend and their future, and never involves himself in the dirty scams happening right under his nose. Kenny’s mismatched nature could be due to the amount of alcohol clouding his vision, but he just isn’t a compelling a protagonist (or anti-hero?).
In fact, the film itself is so obviously trying to imitate the success of films like The Wolf of Wall Street, American Hustle and The Big Short; borrowing so heavily from each that it rarely manages to do its own thing. It’s a shame too to have Stephen Gaghan – the man who once gave us eye-opening films like Traffic and Syriana – return to directing after more than a decade and deliver something far too dramatized and too loosely based on real-life CEO David Walsh’s exploits. It all feels like an Oscar bid, but ironically, it lacks that golden polish.
Though it has all been done better before, McConaughey saves Gold from bereavement and does make it somewhat entertaining, even with the story fighting him at every turn. Let’s just hope he starts choosing his scripts a little better.
Gold is available in Australian cinemas from February 2
Image courtesy of Studiocanal