Gold: Foolish, by David Bax

26 Jan

Stephen Gaghan’s Gold is a ridiculous movie. It’s too bad, though, that it’s not an intentional choice. Matthew McConaughey’s performance as would-be mining tycoon Kenny Wells is so full of unearned swagger that it brings to mind another Kenny, Kenny Powers from HBO’s Eastbound and Down. This time, though, it’s not the character that’s the source of the laughs. It’s McConaughey himself.

In a story very loosely based on reality—names, locations and plausible human behavior have been changed—Wells devotes the last bit of capital from his family’s failing mining company into a long shot partnership with a man named Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez) who believes he’ll find vast amounts of gold in the Indonesian jungle.

It’s a riches to rag to riches to rags to riches story that ought to be far more fun than it is. Unfortunately, Gaghan is so wedded to shopworn narrative mechanics that the substance evaporates, leaving only the gears to click drily into place, one after another. Does Kenny appear to be at the height of his success? Than it must be time to introduce the marital problems. The story gets juiced up a tad by some late-breaking twists but, by then, the torpor has set in too deep.

Kenny’s meant to be an impulsive hedonist and, in that at least, there should be some fun. But even attempts in that direction feel neutered. Is a Jacuzzi really the best symbol of debauchery Gaghan could come up with? Gold even fails at being a low-rent Wolf of Wall Street. In fact, all of Gaghan’s Scorsese-lite aspirations fall short. The voiceover is flat and the pop songs on the soundtrack, though good (Joy Division, New Order, Pixies) are employed obviously and without inspiration. Do we really need to hear Ian Curtis intoning, “Don’t walk away in silence” as Kenny walks away in silence?

All of this lazy hackwork is bad enough but the main problem with Gold is McConaughey himself. It was only five years ago that he showed up in Richard Linklater’s terrific Bernie and reminded us what a delightfully committed and unpredictable actor he could be. He followed that with Mud and Magic Mike and a number of other fantastically offbeat performances and we rejoiced. We dubbed it the McConaissance. Now, between Gold and this year’s insipid Free State of Jones, that revolution has expired and begun to decompose, eating away at itself. McConaughey has bought into his own myth. Here, he gains a beer gut and wears a bald cap and a set of crooked teeth. It’s not to look like Kenny Wells. Kenny Wells is made up, based vaguely on some other guy who also doesn’t look like that. It’s just for show. It brings to mind Sir Laurence Olivier’s famous (and probably apocryphal) words, “Why don’t you just try acting?”

It seems McConaughey’s malarkey has infected the whole movie, actually. With its washed out color palette of browns and, of course, golds, it’s apparently meant to look as ugly and outdated as its tacky 1980s trappings. But, like everything else about Gold, it’s an affectation. It’s just playing at being a good movie.

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