One would imagine that one of the greatest pleasures for any actor is the ability to inhabit the world of somebody completely different from him or her. And when doing that role requires a physical transformation, the job becomes that much easier, as the person staring back at you in the mirror looks nothing like you.
Judged just on that, Matthew McConaughey must have had a ball making Gold, in which he plays Kenny Wells, a real-life gold prospector in the 1980s on the hunt for his next big score. As played by McConaughey, Wells is balding, overweight, and has a snaggle-tooth — conditions that combine to make the notoriously handsome actor about as ugly as he’ll ever be.
His look is indicative of the type of person Wells is, namely one desperate to restore his family’s once-good name in the mining industry. A fever dream inspires Wells to go to Indonesia to meet with Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez), a fellow prospector who had previous luck in the region. Their search turns up a strike, but the subsequent series of events brings both monumental highs and lows.
The film, directed by Stephen Gaghan (Syriana), plays out like a lower rent version of The Wolf of Wall Street. Wells and his team hustle for every dollar they can get, at one point working out of a bar to save money. Cigarettes and booze are so omnipresent that you may get a contact high just by watching.
Wells' ever-changing prospects are relatively fun and interesting, but the story could have used a bit more speed. Gaghan and the two screenwriters spend a lot of time on minutiae that doesn’t enhance the film. Wells’ exploits are entertaining enough that a deep dive into the details of mining is unnecessary.
Also somewhat pointless is Wells’ relationship with his girlfriend, Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard). The film is male-heavy, so she was likely included to add a bit of variety to the proceedings, but the character is so inconsequential that it’s sometimes a surprise when she pops up again. Wells’ friendship with Acosta winds up being much more memorable.
McConaughey leaves no scene unchewed in the film, utilizing his character’s appearance for all its worth. As pure entertainment, it’s very effective, but in an acting sense, McConaughey has been much better in recent years.
Gold works in fits and starts, but the end product is one that blares mediocrity. You could do worse, but you could also do much better.