Movie Review: Gold

Solid work by an ensemble cast helps a true story about the search for gold

Directed by Stephen Gaghan
With Matthew McConaughey, Édgar Ramírez, Bryce Dallas Howard, Corey Stoll, Toby Kebbell, Craig T. Nelson, Stacy Keach, Bruce Greenwood

Few things capture the imagination like finding a gold mine. But the cost of gold is so high because the success rate in finding the shiny yellow metal is so low.

The new film Gold follows the exploits of a man whose father built a successful mining company in Nevada, but due to the economic downturn in the 1980s, he has fallen on hard times and now runs the operation from a bar. He still hopes to get some backers and find something to change his fortunes, but his finances from his successful days are all but gone.

The story, as the opening titles claim, is based on true events. The real story took place in Canada in the 1990s, but for legal reasons and dramatic purposes all of the names were changed. If you don't know the story of the Canadian-backed gold strike in Indonesia, then the film is great roller coaster ride, full of surprise twists and turns. And the less of the story you know, the better.

Matthew McConaughey as Kenny Wells, the head of the small and troubled mining company, carries the film. The handsome actor is not afraid to let it all hang out, drinking nonstop and sporting an unshaven face on his best days. On his worst days, his pot belly and balding head are matched by grimy clothes that have seen much better times long ago when they were in fashion. He stands in for everyone who has has never given up on their dreams of one day striking it rich — well, at least everyone who has whiskey for breakfast and uses the local bar as an office.

But the film is an ensemble piece, even though it is told almost entirely from Kenny Wells' point of view. All of the cast, from Kenny's bar buddies to Wall Street investment bank vultures, hit the right notes. The re-creation of the 1980s is also spot on, down to every embarrassing haircut and leisure suit.

Veteran actor Stacy Keach turns up and is almost unrecognizable as a fellow mining businessman. Craig T. Nelson, popular in the 1980s and '90s, has a brief bit as Kenny's father in early scenes before things turn sour.

Also adding some color is Bryce Dallas Howard as Kenny's girlfriend, Kay, who struggles to make ends meet for much of the film. It is the sort of role that often is a demeaning stereotype. Howard brings an inner strength it. She has been acting since childhood when she made brief appearances in her father Ron Howard's films, but has yet to become a big star. She shows her talent here, and hopefully will get bigger roles in the future.

Another key player is Édgar Ramírez as as Michael Acosta, a geologist who had a big copper strike where nobody thought there was any. He has his own theories on rock formations and the Ring of Fire in the Pacific. The Venezuelan actor was recently in The Girl on the Train and won accolades for his work in the 2010 miniseries Carlos.

Ramírez and McConaughey make a natural team, and the audience really wants them to succeed in their hunt for gold. But it is a tricky business even under the best conditions. Whether they succeed or not is something the film wants to reveal slowly.

Director Stephen Gaghan previously wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay for Traffic, and wrote and directed Syriana, both of which were quite complicated stories with thriller elements. He takes the same urgent sense to Gold, which was written by Patrick Massett and John Zinman. The action never settles for long before the next crisis comes up.

Gold has not been a huge success at the box office, and it was overlooked for awards. But it does offer rewards for those who are willing to get caught up in the search for the yellow dust that dreams are made of.

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