Review: Solid 'Gold' Lacks Weight
Warning: spoilers for anyone unfamiliar with the real-life Bre-X scandal, which Gold is primarily based upon, in below review.
In the mid-1990s, Canadian mining company Bre-X announced an incredible find in the jungles of Indonesia: billions of dollars worth of gold that increased in amount every time a new estimate was made.
The gold was one thing, but the market value of Bre-X, a penny stock that rose to $280 a share by 1997, was something else. Only problem: it was all a hoax, there was no gold, and the company’s highest execs cashed out and fled the country while investors that included local pension funds lost billions.
In the new movie Gold, names and locations have been changed but most other details seem to accurately reflect that infamous case that still serves as a major black mark for the Toronto Stock Exchange.
And writer-director Stephen Gaghan (Syriana) has given himself a most improbable, perhaps impossible, task: those execs that perpetrated one of the biggest cases of criminal fraud in history? They’re the heroes of this little tale.
In Gold, the location of the company has been transposed from Canada to the US Southwest.
Matthew McConaughey stars as Kenny Wells (based on Bre-X exec David Walsh), the gold prospecting son of a gold prospector (played by Craig T. Nelson in a brief flashback), down on his luck and in search of that one big find that will save both him and his barely-existent company.
But unlike The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, the prospectors in Gold aren’t up there with pickaxes on the mountainside, they’re in boardrooms and on phones trying to source funds for potential digs, and exploiting those digs for all they’re (potentially) worth.
In digital age, the real treasure isn’t what you actually find the ground, but what you can convince others you might find.
A last-ditch effort finds Kenny in the jungles of Indonesia, where he meets geologist Michael Acosta (a character based on the real-life Michael de Guzman), played by Édgar Ramírez. Despite Kenny’s malaria-induced haze, gold is struck. Those familiar with the real-life scandal will know what’s going on, but will have to wait till the end of the movie for all the other characters to find out.
Those characters are portrayed by a first-rate supporting cast: Bryce Dallas Howard as Kenny’s longtime girlfriend, Joshua Harto as the company’s account manager, Corey Stoll and Bruce Greenwood as Wall Street investors, Toby Kebbell as an FBI agent interviewing Wells after-the-fact during a framing device.
But it’s Ramírez and McConaughey at front-and-center who carry the film. And despite McConaughey’s stripped-down characterization, balding and pot-bellied, we like these guys because they’re played by charismatic and engaging actors.
But that doesn’t jive with what the characters have done, and by the end Gaghan has written himself into a corner. His Gold is compelling narrative for all of its 121 minutes, but by the finale we can’t help but feel it’s missing something: substance, heart, and perhaps most of all - accountability.