THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Gold plays as if someone saw Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street and thought I've got to find a story just like this! In many respects, they are the same film. They are based on true stories, follow more or less the same path, hit a lot of the same notes, and have lead characters who are avaricious antiheroes. The difference is that Gold's central figure isn't as charismatically shallow as Wolf's, and the movie itself lacks the punch of similar rags to riches to rags tales.
Matthew McConaughey – sporting a shaved head and a few extra pounds – plays Kenny Wells, a small-time gold prospector perpetually looking for a big score. He decides to play a hunch that there may be a mother lode of the stuff sitting in the jungles of Indonesia. To help him find it, Kenny employs geologist Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez), since he knows how to find the specific places to look. Their mission is a success, leading the previously broke Kenny to become a greedy jerk who cheats on his faithful-beyond-reason girlfriend Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard). Striking it rich brings about a number of unforeseen complications, which Kenny tries to solve through various dubious means.
The trajectory of Gold is very familiar. It contains abrupt success, shaky deals, affairs, and betrayals. Kenny starts down on his luck. He hits it big. He gets greedy, driven by a feeling of faux invincibility. Everything crashes down around him. A lot of movies have followed this arc. It's a classic type of plot. Gold doesn't add much to it that's new. Writer/director Stephen Gaghan is skilled at telling tough, complex stories, having also written Syriana and Traffic. The machinations of gold prospecting, which are unknown to most people and would therefore have given the movie a unique flavor, are not fully explored. Subsequently, the film has a rote feel, as though it's marching through things on auto-pilot.
There's a bigger problem, though. To paraphrase the comedy Tropic Thunder, you never go “full McConaughey.” In Gold, Matthew McConaughey goes full McConaughey. The actor has a particular set of tics that are often well-utilized in his best roles. This time, he uses all of them simultaneously and at maximum volume, which ends up ensuring that we only see him as opposed to Kenny Wells. He elongates his natural Texas drawl, indulges in random quirky facial expressions, and gives off a slightly spacey stoner vibe. It comes as a surprise that he doesn't actually stop to say Alright alright alright! at any point during the film. The cumulative result is deeply distracting.
Despite those considerable flaws, there are parts of Gold that work. Edgar Ramirez is outstanding as Acosta. By nature, the character is as reserved as he is shrewd. That becomes important late in the movie. Ramirez creates a character who is compelling to watch precisely because he plays his cards close to the vest. Gold's other notable quality is the story itself. As with all true stories, some liberties are taken. Nonetheless, what happened to Kenny Wells after striking gold is fascinating, even when squeezed into a well-worn formula. I've avoided discussing the film's third act, but it's the best part because it gets at how greed motivates people and shapes their morality. There's also a hint of mystery in the wrap-up.
The ingredients are here for a powerful cautionary tale. In moments, you can really see what Gold might have been, if only McConaughey had reined it in a little bit, and if Gaghan had capitalized more the uniqueness of his subject matter. (It's additionally worth noting that Kay is the movie's sole significant female character, and of course, she's one-dimensionally written.) Despite a higher pedigree on the surface level, Gold ends up being not much more satisfying than Fool's Gold, the 2008 romantic comedy in which McConaughey also went in search of treasure, but with Kate Hudson rather than Edgar Ramirez.
( out of four)
TITLE is rated R for language throughout and some sexuality/nudity. The running time is 2 hours and 1 minute.
Buy a copy of my book, "Straight-Up Blatant: Musings From The Aisle Seat," on sale now at Lulu.com! Paperback and Kindle editions also available at Amazon.com!