Gold is the third straight movie we’ve seen that focuses exclusively on a single character obsessed with conquering his world (see also *Live by Night* and *The Founder*). In this case the character is our main man, Matthew McConaughey, as a mineral prospector whose Nevada ‘plays’ have come to an end by the late 1980s, so he sets his sights to his dreams about the vast untapped wealth of rural Indonesia. From that point, the movie splits its time between the lushness of the jungle in one part of the world, to the arid semi-mountainous climes of Nevada in another, to the concrete jungle that is Wall Street that bankrolls the whole affair.
Actually, that is not quite right. There are two candidates for main character, which the viewer has to sort out on their own. The first candidate, of course, is McConnaughey as Kenny — a rambling guy with a protruding gut, a spectacularly receding hairline, and a tooth issue that I can’t quite put my finger on, who is often seen sporting tighty whities that are neither tight nor white. There are very few if any scenes where Kenny isn’t the focal point, and he is mostly fun to watch. Big props to him for looking pretty much like a fat guy on a bender from wire to wire in this one. The other main character is Edgar Ramirez as the gold whisperer, Michael Acosta, who gets to play the sharp-dressed man here, and is beautiful doing so. I still can’t decide if he nailed it with his performance or if he kind of sucked. I’m leaning toward nailed it, with the suckiness coming more from some unevenness of the plot and pacing and incidentals.
As for that plot, wow, a movie about hardrock mineral exploration and development, a subject that has fascinated me for some time now. Gold, we have been told for centuries, has a peculiar power over mankind and it makes men do things that people who haven’t had that feeling are at a loss to explain – sort of like love, only heavier.Why, it was Adam Smith himself who said that
Of all those expensive and uncertain projects which bring bankruptcy upon the greater part of the people that engage in them, there is none perhaps more perfectly ruinous than the search after new silver and gold mines.
Indeed, we get plenty of that vibe here. The movie begins during the minerals boom of the late 1970s and early 1980s (when we were “running out” of resources) and quickly moves to the bust of the late 1980s, putting the protagonist in a sorry state and primed for that one last gamble that might pay off. We’ve seen this film before in a million different contexts, and this somehow rings true anyway, possibly because it is a story as old as the hills that we are digging up.
Realizing his prospects in Nevada are dead, he gets on a plane to find Acosta and see about this crazy “Ring of Fire” theory they have on mineral deposition. Soon, the two are literally up the river setting up camp (Great homage to Easy Rider with the “Do you have a hat?” query before they got in the boat, joining the two on the road trip for obsessed prospectors). Then we get to the financing, the financers (Stacy Keach in a modern western!), IPOs, capital formation, project development, etc, etc., all humming along to the 80s techno soundtrack that included New Order, Joy Division, The Pixies, some instrumentals that sounded like they were lifted from the Sexy Beast soundtrack, and other stuff probably contemporary of the period — in other words, nothing like what people were listening to in Reno or in Jakarta.
On that note, I was struck by the absence of cowboy boots and big belt buckles on the Reno sets (though there were a few bolo ties if memory serves). Aside from that, however, the unpleasantness of jungle life and the not quite comfortable accommodations of Nevada offices and bars came through nicely, and was it just me, or did I leave the theater smelling like a pack of Winstons?
While the movie has something to say about the excesses of financial capitalism and the capriciousness of government edict, it is largely silent on the massive project itself. That is, these men (and one woman, played by Rachel Taylor, but who looks a lot like Blair from the Facts of Life, adding to the 80s vibe, though her role in the whole affair is rather sketchy) plan to dig a giant pit in the middle of what is an indisputably gorgeous area, bordering on the main water supply of the locals there. Modern hardrock mining is extra-ordinarily environmentally “intense” (best-case scenario), and the transformation of that area would have undoubtedly been both complete and permanent. We are told this is a very rich find – an eighth of an ounce of gold per ton of material processed. Can you imagine? Probably not. That’s over 125 million tons of material dug up and ground up per pound of gold if you’re doing the arithmetic. A shot of the operations working out the massive craters in Nevada would have given this movie some perspective on the disconnect between guys in suits smoking cigarettes and boozing it up and the reality that is modern commercial gold mining. Kenny and Michael “get their hands dirty,” but when the hole quits giving, they get to go back to their tuxedos and extensive bar tabs and the locals are left with the aftermath.
All in all, I liked this movie despite some of these shortcomings — the biggest one being too short-lived and too stupid to dwell upon. For someone with different sensibilities, I can see any number of potential deal breakers that could leave you muttering to yourself. So you can take your $5 and see this movie with some popcorn on Tuesday, or buy yourself approximately 0.02 ounces of gold.