Matthew McConaughey gamely powers an inconsistent offering from director Stephen Gaghan
Matthew McConaughey is mesmerising as he 'uglies up' for a seemingly tall tale from director Stephen Gaghan which melds Wolf of Wall Street-style financial skulduggery with a Herzogian walk on the wild side. Gold falls short of its influences in the bravura stakes yet proves pleasantly confounding; odiousness makes way for compassion, greed for loyalty and pluck, while its love affair takes a backseat to something rather more bromantic.
Loosely based on the Bre-X mining scandal of 1997 but with a story transplanted to the 1980s, it sees small-time, Reno-based prospector Kenny Wells run his deceased father's beloved mining company into the ground. In the throes of desperation, this chancer takes a punt on maverick geologist Mike Acosta (Edgar Ramírez), scrabbling together the capital to fund a gold hunt in the Indonesian jungle.
Gaghan distinguished himself with his Oscar-winning screenplay for 2000's Traffic and did a creditable job at the helm of Syriana (for which he was also nominated for a screenwriting Oscar), and his star is just about clinging on to the wave of his celebrated 'McConaissance'. Leading lady Bryce Dallas Howard, too, seems to be finally coming into her own, though she's under-utilised here as Wells's devoted partner.
The film fixates on McConaughey's eye-catching transformation, basking in each flash of Wells's goofy grin and display of his ample, sweaty flesh – a fascination that becomes a tad wearying. But this somewhat grotesque protagonist is nicely offset by Ramírez's handsome devil – the Venezuelan actor is smooth-as-silk as the enigmatic Acosta, in whom Wells finds an unlikely kindred spirit.
McConaughey's reliably intense work is transparently a bid, now thwarted, for fresh awards glory. Other elements of the story fall by the wayside as the film pins its hope on a bankable showman rather than shading in the story as a whole, with quality support like Toby Kebbell, Bruce Greenwood and Corey Stoll left to gawp on the sidelines.
Energised by a game performance and toe-tapping soundtrack, this is nevertheless a film that never really settles into a satisfying groove, nor confidently projects an identity. Gold has some of the glitter of an Oscar-winner but you don't have to inspect it too closely to realise that it ain't quite the real deal.
General release from Fri 3 Feb.