Matthew McConaughey dives into his role as mad-dog prospector Kenny Wells like a starving man sitting down to a feast. As a movie, Gold is slim pickings. But McConaughey keeps you riveted. Based loosely on a 1990’s gold-mining scandal involving John Felderhof, who partnered with a Filipino geologist Michael de Guzman to mine a mineral fortune in the Indonesian jungles, the movie changes names and dates and messes with the facts at will. Why? Director Steve Gaghan (Syriana) and screenwriters Patrick Massett and John Zinman (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider) apparently wanted to mate The Treasure of the Sierra Madre with The Wolf of Wall Street and birth a box-office bonanza out of an orgy of greed and hedonism. It’s a scary hybrid tribute to capitalism run amok.
McConaughey plays Kenny as a sweaty, balding, pot-bellied fantasist. Too much? Nah. Watching a dynamite actor take risks is exhilarating. The man has inherited a Nevada mining company from his daddy. But he doesn’t know what to do with it until a level-headed geologist, Michael Acosta (a sly, stellar Édgar Ramírez), tells him there really is gold in them thar hills. Kenny is always in a fever, so when he contracts malaria in Indonesia, you think he might collapse in a puddle. Instead, Mr. Can-Do strikes it rich – which brings on the vultures, including the Indonesian government, all in for a piece of the action in the biggest gold strike of the 20th century. Meanwhile, Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard), the girl back home, tries to keep him off the ledge.
No such luck. As Gold hits its bad-news phase – the F.B.I. starts sniffing around and the gold strike is unmasked as a fraud – the life goes out of this wildly uneven movie. Only through the deep-drill thrill of McConaughey’s performance do we learn something worth knowing about human nature and the legacy of a broken American dream.