“McConaughey but” has long been the hallmark of the “McConaissance”. “But thin,” “but strong,” “but introspective,” and with Gold, all flashy prosthetics and swollen physique, “but off-putting.” No McConaughey-ism isn’t mined: no grunt, no “alright”, no body tick, it’s a cavalcade of self-indulgence. There’s a certain latter-day Depp about him. His performances are erratic and loud, his characters wacky and vexatious. The end of the McConaissance is nigh.
Dialogue exists almost exclusively as exposition, with McConaughey’s southern drawl intermittently narrating the goings-on through a cloud of smoke and a bottle of whiskey. His Kenny Wells is an off-putting wheeler-dealer, a struggling businessman hindered by the success of his recently deceased father (Craig T. Nelson). That cloud of smoke and stench of cheap whiskey stains his dealings; his collapsing mining company – with no office to return to – now operates out of a bar. To offset his lame attempts at success, Wells’ girlfriend Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard) is forced to work two jobs; both at the bar and in a furniture store.
In a booze-soaked haze, Wells dreams of gold in the hills of Indonesia. As if on a mission from God, he packs his bags and leaves. Once in Indonesia, he partners with Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez) and the two go digging.
Before they strike gold, the film struggles to gather momentum. Expositional dumps give way to montages of travel; the awareness of his future success ultimately acts as an early hindrance. Such is the convenience of the story; they happen to strike upon a wealth of precious metal as Wells, struck down by malaria, wakes from a “malarial haze.” Yet through this malarial haze, about 40 minutes into a film over-flowing, director Stephen Gaghan precariously finds his footing.
Like The Wolf of Wall Street gone before, or any other archetypal, copy of a copy of a copy rags-to-riches tale, the film is most successful as Wells revels in his success. McConaughey’s innate swagger, all-be-it dirtied and weathered, takes on a certain creepiness as he leaches onto those more successful, exploiting them for their wealth before jumping onto the next cooing CEO.
But then Gaghan isn’t really interested in the business side of the whole affair. His interest is rooted in the relationships of Wells, which is all good, if only for the poor development of those around him. Dallas Howard, in a girlfriend role rather unforgiving, impresses with what little she’s been given whilst Edgar Ramirez is all charm and little more. In fact Dallas Howard acts as the glue that holds the film together. She is sympathetic and tragic, her giant blue eyes looking forever on the verge of tears. She places a much-needed dampener on McConaughey’s all-engulfing performance. Ramirez comes off less well but there is palpable chemistry between the two in a manner reminiscent of a reluctant marriage.
Small appearances from Corey Stoll, Stacey Keach and Toby Kebbell add certain pedigree to the whole debacle, but again, they act as foil to what really exists only to bolster McConaughey’s ego.
Thankfully there’s comfort in the musical choices of Gaghan. Daniel Pemberton’s score is sparky and lively, all rumbling bass riffs and funk synths, whilst the musical choices of The Pixies, Joy Division, New Order, Orange Juice, and lesser-used 80s tracks hint at something far more interesting.
Gaghan is clearly an incredibly adept director yet he struggles to find the remarkable in Gold. Individual moments impress, yet these are all rooted in films long gone before. An awards-ceremony is a copy/paste job of Boogie Nights, montages showing exaggerated wealth look like clippings collected from the cutting room floor of The Wolf of Wall Street. To describe it as “lite” would be too kind.
Gold is a further case of a forgettable film boosted by impressive performances. The McConaissance is at its sorry death knell.
Gold is released in UK cinemas on 3rd February.