When Stephen Gaghan’s name is mentioned in most pop culture circles, people tend to show a certain level of interest, but the odd thing is that he has only directed three feature films. Known more as a writer for things like “Traffic,” “Rules of Engagement, and “Syriana,” he is one of those guys that tends to be held in high regard in Hollywood. Departing from writing duties, he directs mainly television writing pair Patrick Massett and John Zinman’s true story of determination, greed, and a lust for power simply called “Gold”.
It is the ‘80s, and Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey) has inherited his father’s mining company. Unfortunately, the recession in the middle of the decade has left him and his faithful friends running the business out of a local bar where his girl, Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard), works. In a last-ditch effort, he travels to Indonesia where he seeks out Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez), a geologist who is seeking a “ring of fire,” where he believes a mother lode of gold and precious metals lie. Wells goes all in, even almost sacrificing his own life to find the promised land, and when they do, the meteoric rise and eventual fall of their discovery carries more twists and turns than a bag of Twizzlers.
“Gold” is one of those films that I had a rough feeling about but still had hopes for. The trailer gave me the sense that Gaghan saw “American Hustle,” called David O. Russell, and then said “Hey, can I do that too?”. Granted, sometimes the trailer can follow another film’s formula to suck its audience in and then throw a curve, but that is not the case here. I got the same feel that I did for the multiple award winner, but “Gold” just doesn’t live up to it. McConaughey does what he has been doing here, but after “Dallas Buyers Club,” any role he takes will be stacked up next to it, and the likelihood to match or surpass that performance is slim to none. If he had done this film first, it might be a bit more lauded that it probably will be. I have been fascinated by the continued evolution that his career has taken, where he is taking more and more roles that stretch both he and his audience while also taking those that he can just have fun with.
There is an incredible cast here including Howard, Stacy Keach, Corey Stoll, Craig T. Nelson, Toby Kebbell, Ramirez, and even Bruce Greenwood. With as much as I enjoy each and every one of these actors, it still is the story and visual style that just falls short for me. The second act weighs the pacing down really badly without a real payoff. There is no follow up to what happens to the characters after the film, which I would have loved to know especially given how the film ends. If there IS a silver lining here, it lies within its soundtrack, lined up by Daniel Pemberton, that features a lot of off-the-beaten-path songs from the era that really fit the mood well.
For a movie that really should be in that top echelon of films of the year, “Gold” may just wind up in the middle of the pack at best. It is a decent story but just doesn’t deliver in a way that audiences will expect it to within a large number of true stories featured in the ‘70s and ‘80s.