In 1981, Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey) was hoping to follow in his father's footsteps as a great gold miner, or a miner for any valuable material really, and as he explained to his girlfriend Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard) there were degrees of reward from the business that he just knew he could make the most of. However, in this prospecting business he was failing at uncovering his fortune for the next few years until one day he decided to investigate Indonesia, a country that had vast swathes of untouched land and the promise of containing precious metals throughout them. He met with geologist Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez) who shared his opinion that there was a lot of profit to be made there, and off they went…
Here's a strange thing. You know those David O. Russell quasi-biopics where he took real people and built up a fictional story around them? Well, Gold was in that vein, adopting a few facts from the notorious Bre-X shares scandal of the nineteen-nineties and spinning them into something different by inventing characters to play them out, and giving what was a decidedly non-happy turn of events an approximation of a happy ending, or happier than what occurred in real life. A bit. The actual tale was a controversy that almost brought down the Canadian stock exchange, but screenwriters Patrick Masset and John Zinman transplanted it to Reno to make it more appealing to the larger United States market, one of many alterations.
The trouble with that was, Russell would conjure a genuinely compelling set of scenes out of his tinkering with the truth, while with this the nagging feeling was that the truth was more interesting than what they watered it down to here. As a result, a in a movie landscape where The Wolf of Wall Street and The Big Short were doing very well indeed by dressing up what could have been dry, even impenetrable yarns concerned with the way the financial sector was riding roughshod over the public, Gold faltered at the box office because its main hook had to be concealed for dramatic purposes. There was a twist here, and if you were unaware of its inspiration it might have caught you off guard come the final half hour.
Then again, you may have noticed that you knew how these narratives went and pride came before a fall, and there was a precipitous drop awaiting Kenny and Michael's fortunes (literally in one case), so this was not about to upset that template - where was the intrigue in watching a couple of businessmen do really well for themselves and, er, that was it? What garnered most of the publicity was McConaughey's physical transformation, as ever since Raging Bull the act of changing your body either by becoming very fit or very fat was the mark of true dedication, and Matt even shaved his head to make it look as if he was going bald. Quite why he felt this was necessary when he could have played the role looking much as he always did was a matter for the star, but you lost count of the number of shots of him topless, showing off his convex belly.
Yes, even when he was out of shape he couldn't keep his shirt on, so add to that a set of goofy teeth and you began to wonder if it might not have been more sensible to cast Paul Giamatti instead. And yet, despite all these reservations, Gold was not too bad a watch, it was what was often termed "solid": steady performances, well put together, a few decent sequences that demonstrated these were no amateurs assembling a movie. What it was not was especially engaging, you sat through it with a basic level of captivation but would never be on the edge of your seat; yes, there were some nice images but throughout there was a sense that the production was tiptoeing around the real substance, that aforementioned scandal which if everyone was reining these rampant money men in would never have happened. How could they be allowed so much power when so much was at stake? Why were these men trusted beyond the pursuit of some nebulous notion of achieving society's aspiration to wealth? This never took those issues by the scruff of the neck, preferring a milder Treasure of the Sierra Madre for the twenty-first century. Music by Daniel Pemberton (plus a load of curiously chosen oldies).
[There are three featurettes and deleted scenes as extras on Studio Canal's Blu-ray.]