Gold is an Oscar bait movie that turns a fascinating true to life story of perhaps the biggest mining scam in the world into a cliched rags to rich tale of a one note cartoon.

Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey), a prospector desperate for a lucky break, teams up with a similarly eager geologist and sets off on an amazing journey to find gold in the uncharted jungle of Indonesia. Getting the gold was hard, but keeping it would be even harder, sparking an adventure through the most powerful boardrooms of Wall Street.

Twenty years ago the Bre-X scandal took place and despite being the biggest mining scam in the Canada, it only made a minor blip and faded into obscurity. Fast forward to the dawn of the McConnaissance, and you’ve got a prestige picture complete with a head to toe transformation.

Matthew McConaughey chews the scenery in Gold, where he plays a pot belied buffoon named Kenny Wells. He’s engaging thanks to a committed performance by McConaughey. Edgar Ramirez provides a good contrast as Micheal Acosta with an underplayed performance.

The down-on-his luck hustler and the “river walker” team up in Borneo to mine Gold. The jungle scenes are lush and convincingly oppressive as heat, rain, and tropical diseases threaten their bodies while diminishing returns exhaust their mind.

As the movie progresses though, it becomes clear that this movie is intended as an Oscar vehicle for McConaughey rather than a retelling of its source material.

The narrative is focused on the least interesting player of the story. Kenny Welsh is a fictional stand-in for David Walsh, a businessman who got roped in by Michael de Guzman. The Filipino geologist has a more fascinating role in the scam, both as a perpetrator for salting ore samples and a key scapegoat in the investigation whose death was never really confirmed. Since the movie decided to ride the McConnaissance, it becomes the cliched story of a down on his luck hustler.

While Leonardo DiCaprio is captivating as Jordan Belfort in a similar tale, Matthew McConaughey’s Kenny Welsh is off putting and tiresome. He’s a one note cartoon in a story that portrays him both as a likeable jerk (with Bryce Dallas Howard given a thankless role as the girlfriend) who just wants redemption and a small shark in a tank of bigger sharks. So its not clear why we should care about him and what the movie is trying to say – the pitfalls of capitalism or an underdog tale about persistence. It’s also uncertain on why the story chose to focus on him when there are more interesting elements from its source material.

The result is a predictable Oscar bait. The movie could have either been a mysterious crime thriller or an oddball tale of a quick rich scheme had it focused on the key figures of its back story. Unfortunately, the makers behind this film were more more amused by men in suits making deals.

In the end, Gold finishes as a typical rags to riches tale of a likeable jerk. At the least, it tells us how greed can easily blindside people and for the most part the movie succeeds in doing so with a committed performance from its lead. Ultimately though, Gold is an uneven quasi-biography that squanders its fascinating back story to chase empty prestige.

My Rating: 4/10

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