Happy to stick to a formula rather than shine in its own right, Gold's quest for glittering success largely proves dull.
Since the McConaissance swept in and brought Matthew McConaughey back into the dramatic frame, viewers have become accustomed to the trademarks of his performances. The mischievous grin, the relaxed drawl, the loose gait and the fondness for saying "all right" were all present in his romantic comedy days; now, along with a penetrating gaze, they're called upon to enact rather different material. That's why, six years after re-igniting his career with The Lincoln Lawyer, and three years after winning an Oscar for Dallas Buyers Club, McConaughey both does and doesn't seem to be going through the motions. On the one hand, all his usual acting traits remain. On the other, so does his attempt to apply them to a wide array of roles.
Alas, the former can often — and in this case, increasingly — render the latter moot. McConaughey hasn't before played the part of Kenny Wells, Gold's enterprising entrepreneur who takes the lead of his dreams and travels to Indonesia in search of glistening wealth. And yet, in writer-turned-director Stephen Gaghan’s (Syriana) third effort, which takes inspiration from the Bre-X mining scandal of 1993 and required its star to gain a considerable amount of weight to suit the character, it always feels like he's been here before.
Full of charisma and chatter, Kenny generally wants to succeed more than he wants to be rich; however, when he's down on his luck and being encouraged to look for something more practical by his supportive but wearying girlfriend Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard, Pete’s Dragon), he'd like both. The pure force of his enthusiastic, determined personality convinces Indonesia-based geologist Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramírez, The Girl on the Train) to assist in his plan — and, when Kenny is stricken with malaria while their quest hits a lull, to persevere. Then, when the duo strikes it lucky, his charm is once again pivotal as attention and a fortune beckons, though every get-rich-quick story has its perils.
McConaughey clearly doing what he typically does isn't Gaghan's only capitulation to easy familiarity. Nor, with the underused Ramírez and Howard bringing more depth than their parts as a put-upon spouse and an enigmatic partner demand in the script, does he provide the film's only memorable portrayal. Merging his usual antics with an approach that will be recognisable to viewers of other male-centric rags-to-riches fare of late results in a feature that remains wholly derivative. Flashy splashes of luck and excess on a roller coaster-like trajectory haven't been in short supply since The Wolf of Wall Street; with a penchant for music-set montages and a lack of bite to its skewering of the money-making dream, Gold almost drowns in them.
With his most notable directorial credit to date, Syriana, Gaghan demonstrated skill in relating a complex tale with both intelligence and urgency. In his Oscar-winning screenplay for Traffic, he smartly and engagingly unpacked the rhetoric and the reality of the drug trade. It has been more than a decade since both, and the elements that made each stand out are sorely lacking in Gold, though that’s not its chief struggle. Indeed, all that resonates here is an interesting story told passably as formula wins out over intrigue. Though it focuses on a shiny item, the end product — like the waning stages of the McConaissance — just can't find its sparkle.
Rating: 2 ½ stars out of 5
Director: Stephen Gaghan
USA, 2016, 120 mins
Release date: 2 February
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What the stars mean?
- Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
- Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
- Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
- Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
- Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
- Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
- Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
- One star: Awful, to be avoided
- Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level