“I see money,” says businessman, Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey) as he tries to sell his dream, a literal one, of an Indonesian gold mine to a couple of potential New York investors. One of the investors looks up from the table, closes the portfolio, gives Kenny a benign smile, then states, “Not our money.”
In the new, real-life adventure/drama Gold from director Stephen Gaghan, McConaughey’s Wells inherits a mining company from his father (Craig T. Nelson), but runs it to the ground. After seven unkind years to both his bank account and his looks – pot-bellied, balding – Wells comes across less as someone with whom you might want to go into partnership and more like a has-been huckster who doesn’t know when to quit. After experiencing a vivid dream of finding gold, deep in the Indonesian forests, Wells leaps out of bed with a sudden, fresh vigor. He’s ready to pack his bags and go. “It was like I was being called,” he explains. “If you know that feeling, you’d know.”
His girlfriend, Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard), who has stuck with him for all these years and has tried to keep the man grounded, is less than enthusiastic, but Wells is determined to make his dream a reality. He sets off to Indonesia to meet with geologist and adventurer, Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez).
From there, the film requires you to strap in for an emotional roller coaster ride where the story speeds ever forward with highs, lows, excitement, disappointments, more highs, more lows, success and even more disappointments. Like the character of Wells, it never stops; at least, it never seems to. The fact that it’s based on a true event makes things feel all the more remarkable, but there comes a point – probably about midway – when you start to wonder just how much of what you’re watching is real and how much was invented. It all feels too much. And it’s exhausting.
The film is based on a Canadian report of the Bre-X gold mining scandal where Canadian businessman and CEO of Bre-X, David Walsh, found himself in the center in one of the largest stock market frauds in his country’s history. An enormous gold strike was thought to have been discovered in Indonesia, but nothing proved to be quite as it seemed. What followed haunted Walsh to his eventual grave in 1998.
The scandal took place in the nineties, but Gaghan’s film moves events to America, changes the decade to the eighties and turns David Walsh into Kenny Wells. In case you’re thinking too much has already been given away, that gold strike occurs early; that’s not a plot-spoiler. It’s the events that follow that make up Wells’ story. Just when it appears that he’s riding high, giddy with overwhelming success, something occurs to make Wells and his investors come crashing down. But Wells never gives in. With endless invention, an irreversible determination and ceaseless energy, he puts things back together again, only to be faced with another setback. And so on.
From time to time, the film shifts to a hotel room where a somber sounding Wells is being interviewed by an FBI Agent (Toby Kebbell). Those scenes are sparse during the first two acts, but increase as the story nears its conclusion. The voice-over we hear from the beginning is not so much Wells narrating the story; what we’re hearing is the man’s answers to FBI questions.
Many of the events we see unfold really did happen, but the film’s uneven rhythm and the frustration of witnessing Wells go through the motions of never seeming to get a break eventually takes its toll, and that feeling occurs long before the film’s end. With lots of story-line adjustments from writers Patrick Massett and John Zinman, it all may be loosely based on a real, disastrous event incorporating betrayal, greed for gold and several, conniving Wall Street investors, but it doesn’t always make it entertaining. Plus, there’s something that happens in the final few seconds of the film that may initially inspire a broad smile at the fade-out, but as credits roll you start to question the validity of everything seen before. It doesn’t make sense.
What holds everything together, however, are the two central performances; Ramirez as Wells’ overseas partner and particularly McConaughey. His Wells is nothing short of fascinating, a man that never stops believing in himself, determined to make his dream manifest, and will do practically whatever to make it work. If only the events that the film was telling were told better.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 120 Minutes Overall rating: 6 (out of 10)