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Review: In ‘Gold,’ nothing glitters

Matthew McConaughey goes all-in but can’t save this film about a businessman who strikes it rich

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

In “Gold,” Matthew McConaughey goes big: as Kenny Wells, a down-on-his-luck prospector who winds up making a hefty deal for a gold deposit in the jungle, McConaughey sports a pot belly, a terrible haircut, bad teeth and a sweaty, greasy exterior. He’s frequently seen in his tighty-whiteys, he’s always cupping a glass of booze and his mannerisms are all outsize. It’s big, loud ACTING, constantly drawing attention to itself, and it overwhelms everything else in the movie, which it turns out is floundering around him.

“Gold” is made up of elements that could work or have worked in other instances, but don’t add up here. (“Wolf of Wall Street,” also with McConaughey, immediately comes to mind.) It’s a story of luck and ambition and hubris, an American tale about striking it rich and immediately getting too big for your britches.

McConaughey’s Wells is a hustler who’s always looking to make a deal. He’s oily and works out of the dive bar where his girlfriend Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard) is a waitress, which it turns out is a rather apt metaphor for his life. After failing at several big deals — he’s always one bad move away from sleeping in his car — he teams up with a geologist, Michael Acosta (Édgar Ramírez), who has a hunch about finding gold deep in the jungles of Indonesia. And his hunch checks out.

Well, not quite. Based on the Bre-X scandal of the mid-1990s, “Gold” focuses on the hysteria that surrounds the supposed gold mine and the money that changed hands around it; it’s a series of ups and downs as Wells scores big, loses big, makes deals, watches them fall apart and then hangs on by the skin of his considerable chompers.

Director Stephen Gaghan (“Syriana”) sets the story back a decade, placing it in the 1980s, and moves Wells’ home base from Canada to Reno, Nevada. It allows him to drink in the sights and sounds of the ’80s, but doesn’t help balance the story, which is stuck between a drama and an action caper and never quite feels as crazy as the real life tale that inspired it. (A bit with a live tiger seems like something out of “The Hangover” and feels very out of place.)

McConaughey, several years past the McConaissance, the mid-career resurgence that after years of tiresome romantic comedies brought us “Magic Mike,” “True Detective” and his Oscar-winning role in “Dallas Buyer’s Club,” is in awards mode here although the movie around him is not. His look is essentially Christian Bale’s in “American Hustle,” though Bale’s worked better because the cast and the material around him supported his work. In “Gold,” McConaughey is a one-man show not worth tuning into. (Twist ending: Bale was originally attached to the film in the McConaughey role.)

“Gold” — a better title might be “Fool’s Gold,” but McConaughey already made that movie — wants to strike it rich, but doesn’t have the tools. McConaughey does everything he can to make it shine, but the mine is empty.

agraham@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2284

@grahamorama

‘Gold’

GRADE: C-

Rated R: for language throughout and some sexuality/nudity

Running time: 121 minutes