Gold Review

Gold had a quick, awards-qualifying theatrical run at the end of last year before crashing its wide U.S. opening in January with only a little over $7 million in cumulative grosses. Even with very lukewarm reviews, something intrigued me enough about the film, directed by Stephen Gaghan and top-lined by Matthew McConaughey, to seek it out for home viewing. There seemed to be a great central character thrust into a potentially interesting situation, one even inspired by fact, concerning the discovery of gold in Indonesia. Perhaps Gold had simply gotten lost in the usual shuffle of worthy movies condensed into the end of the calendar year.

McConaughey gained over 40 pounds, drastically altered his usual hair style, and generally deglamorized to the point of unease to play Kenny Wells. The performance dominates the film, for better or worse. Wells is a larger than life character and Gold absolutely revolves around him. The picture begins in 1981 as he's working at his father's mining company but doing little of significance there besides wooing Bryce Dallas Howard. Flash forward seven years and Wells has lost a lot of hair but not Howard. He might be a charlatan or a plain old failure but McConaughey seems to inject so much empathy into his part that the audience reluctantly attaches themselves to this pot-bellied n'eer-do-well.

Though not as a result of any real inertia on the film's part, the narrative nonetheless begins to pick up some steam when Wells seeks out Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez), a geologist who'd once had success with copper. The goal now is gold, somehow possibly hidden in the jungles of Indonesia. After a near-death bout with malaria, Wells is jolted to learn that Acosta and his team have struck it rich - a literal gold mine on their hands. Soon Wells is sought out by an investor friend of the family (Stacy Keach), a Wall Street suit (Corey Stoll) and even a high-powered businessman (Bruce Greenwood) notorious for taking over high profile acquisitions of precious metal finds. He's basking in riches and fame, though largely unchanged, until a succession of problems threatens to completely undo his incredible score.

In some ways the promise and potential that's so intriguing about Gold is not dissimilar to what the lead characters shine up and offer in the film. On the surface it sure does look tempting. After all, this was a story that once had Michael Mann attached to direct, followed by Spike Lee briefly jumping aboard before it finally settled on Syriana director Gaghan. It's only after the viewer commits to the movie - and it doesn't take long - that you begin to sense some unease and regret. It's almost like the filmmakers have no idea what they're doing here. There's little regard for tone or pacing, with it never feeling like a straight drama or eliciting enough laughs to flirt with being a comedy. The storytelling is messy and unfocused. The narrative feels uneven, though it's done no favors by the direction.

Gold never reaches its potential, and McConaughey's idiosyncratic characterization teeters between inspired and distraction. The actor is so committed and, frequently, charming as to make the movie almost worth watching on his presence alone. But then you see shots that look to intentionally showcase the weight he gained and it all feels like a ploy - a con to gain attention like his weight loss for The Dallas Buyers Club did. Plus there's the realization that Kenny Wells wasn't even a real person, meaning McConaughey had no reason to transform himself like he did. The character was loosely based on an actual guy - a Canadian named David Walsh - who looked nothing like McConaughey's Wells does here. His story is similar to what happens in Gold, and it's certainly something worth telling, but enough facts were changed to render the true story aspect somewhat misleading. If McConaughey simply thought the character needed to look like he does, fair enough, but it doesn't do much more than elicit an unkind reaction. Disappointing.


The Disc(s)

Anchor Bay and The Weinstein Company bring Gold to Blu-ray in the U.S. The Region A release also contains a DVD and Digital HD code.

Regardless of one's opinion on the merits of Gold it's worth celebrating how the picture looks, in the wide 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Shot by Robert Elswit on both film and digitally, the movie has an intriguing thickness to it without losing any sense of detail. To some extent, watching Gold is a reminder that the medium of film (rather than digital) achieves a unique look that is arguably richer and more transporting. Elswit used anamorphic film to shoot the jungle portions and the Alexa digital camera for the U.S. sections. The difference is visible, though the entire movie looks great and detail here is especially strong.

Audio emerges via an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that places the listener just as easily right inside the pouring rain of the jungle as in a tense business meeting. Music, including the Golden Globe-nominated title song performed by Iggy Pop, lifts the track when applicable. Subtitles are available in Spanish and English for the hearing impaired.

Special features include an audio commentary by director Stephen Gaghan that delves into the nuts and bolts of the production a bit more.

Featurettes explore "The Origins of Gold" (4:37), with the co-writers mostly discussing how the picture finally went into production and director Gaghan talking about his involvement. "The Locations of Gold" (4:20) breezes through Nevada, New York City and finally the more exotic Thailand. "Matthew McConaughey as Kenny Wells" (3:45) lets the actor briefly talk about his affection for the character he's playing.

There's also a deleted sequence (5:18) featuring McConaughey and Bryce Dallas Howard.

Trailers for Lion and The Founder play upon inserting the disc.

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A disappointing film that's tough to completely dismiss but for McConaughey, looking great on Blu-ray


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