A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
"Gold" is the latest in a subgenre of films that seems to think that the sight of men moving gigantic amounts of money around electronically—and sometimes just stealing it, or having it stolen from them—is innately fascinating. Matthew McConaughey stars as Kenny Wells, who is continuing in the family business carved out by his dad (Craig T. Nelson, glimpsed briefly in flashbacks). The movie repeatedly refers to their ilk as "miners," and they see themselves that way, with pride. But while this film by writer-director Stephen Gaghan ("Syriana") does show Kenny and various allies and rivals traveling to foreign countries and searching treacherous terrain for veins of metal, there's not much pick-axe swinging, bulldozing or blasting to be seen. These self-described miners are more likely to be seen yelling into phones about money, staring anxiously at TV reports about stock prices because they're worried about money, or flying to other states or countries to find out what happened to their money.
The tale is a true one, based on a magazine story, though of course many details have been changed or embellished. Kenny is presented as a down-on-his-luck hustler, practically begging for the money he needs to get back into the precious metals game. He's is the second modern gloss on a Willy Loman/"Death of a Salesman" type to appear in a major film this month—the other is McDonald's mastermind Ray Kroc in "The Founder," a less ambitious but altogether more satisfying drama. Like the McDonald's film, though, "Gold" often can't seem to make up its mind to be disgusted and embarrassed by its hero's naked greed and the seeming moral vacuum at his heart, or get swept up in his adrenaline rush as he scampers from state to state and to South America and back, looking for the big strike that'll make him a big shot.
Kenny goes to Borneo to find a legendary "river walker"—i.e., a hands-on geologist who actually finds the ore that guys like Kenny profit from. He's named Mike Acosta, and both the character and Edgar Ramirez's performance in the role are the best reasons to see this film. Gaghan has decided to focus mainly on Kenny and treat Mike as a bit of a question mark and source of anxiety for the hero. Is he really as great as a lot of people think? Does he truly have a sixth sense for precious metal? Or is he a doppelganger for Kenny, a man whose success is always fleeting because he has more of a talent for hustling money and trust than for doing the job he says he's mastered?
I have no idea if a movie about Mike would have been more fascinating than one focused on Kenny; it's possible that he's not deep enough to hold the center of a long, dense film like "Gold." But I do know that Kenny just plain wore me out. McConaughey has played many men like this one: wild-eyed true believers with a gift of gab who talk with their hands as well as their mouths, and often seem as if they're preaching. He's great at it. This is his kind of role. In another era, you could've plugged Dennis Hopper into it. But the character is so one-note, always tying everything back to his need to redeem himself and his dad, and articulating so many of his concerns verbally rather than through his eyes or body, that after a while I wanted to put in earplugs and shut my eyes to get a break from him.