Gold (2016) Review

By Joel Walkling on January 27, 2017

Set in the 1980’s, the film follows the rollercoaster-esque life of Kenny Wells, played by Matthew McConaughey. Wells is living in the shadow of his father; a highly successful modern-day prospector. Wells is in financial trouble and failing at brokering deals with investors to organise excavating for minerals. At the end of his wits, Wells travels to Indonesia and approaches Michael Acosta, played by Edgar Ramirez, a geologist who has a theory on where gold can be found in the Indonesian jungle. Wells and Acosta start their excavation discover more and more about the greed that comes with the promise of gold.

This review will not contain spoilers

This film was written by Patrick Massett and John Zinman, both of whom have written for several of the same television shows including ‘Blacklist’, ‘Last Resort’, and ‘Friday Night Lights’. The film was directed by Stephen Gaghan, whose resume in film directing is quite small but includes the critically acclaimed and commercially successful, ‘Syriana’ (2005). At the start, we are told that ‘Gold’ is based on “actual events”. These actual events refer the Bre-X gold mining scandal that occurred in the 1990’s where a mining company reported having found gold in the Indonesian Jungle. I won’t say too much about it, as I don’t want to give away the ending, but it is an intriguing story.

I don’t have to do this. I get to do this. Blue skies, Baby. Blue skies”

– Kenny Well’s father, talking about prospecting.

The storyline was different. Has a similar story been done before? Absolutely, but it hasn’t been overdone; which is refreshing in itself. ‘Gold’ relied heavily on contrasts. You would get one scene directly comparable to another, and you would get one character who is the antithesis of another. Kenny vs his dad; in his success and way of doing business. Kenny vs Michael Acosta in physical appearance and demeanour. This occurred the whole way through the film, but it worked. It was a good feature that was used by the filmmakers. One feature of this film that I didn’t like as much was the ‘biopic’ format. The film presented itself as something that was really happened, and although the basic story did, this story about Kenny Wells, did not. As such, the film used the same format that you might see in a film about the life of a real life person like Gandhi. The format entails the use of a lot of conflict and resolutions within the film. Wells would be on top of the world, then he wasn’t, then he was, then he wasn’t. It’s exhausting. Normally, it works but for a film that obviously not based on a real person’s life, it was a little taxing.

When the film first starts, McConaughey is on screen doing his usual schmoozing, doing his sleazy schtick that he does in so many of his films. At this point, I was disappointed as I know he can do so much more. And then he did more. When we cut to seven years later, McConaughey’s Kenny Wells is pathetic, at the end of his wits, and desperate. McConaughey did this really well. I was buying into his failures and successes because it felt genuine. Admittedly, this is not the best performance I have seen from McConaughey. He is so gifted, I’m wondering if the director brought enough out of him or if it was hard to buy McConaughey as fat and balding. Yes, the costume and makeup looked out of place – it almost looked like a caricature of a stereotype. It actually made me think of Tom Cruise as Les Grossman in ‘Tropic Thunder’ (2008).It is difficult to imagine Les Grosman delivering serious lines, isn’t it? Yes, it is. If you don’t agree with that assessment, then, in the words of Grosman himself, you can step back and literally fuck your own face!

You see these hands, Brian? They’re my father’s hands… I have scratched and clawed with these hands, and I will bury you with these hands…”

– Kenny Wells

Edgar Ramirez put in a solid performance. You may recognise Ramirez as Tony in ‘Joy’ (2015), or regrettably, Bodhi, in ‘Festering Garbage’ (2015), I mean ‘Point Break’ (2015). I liked that Ramirez was yin to McConaughey’s yang in this film. His performance of someone that appeared to be straight, and by the book. Ramirez was able to convey so much emotion with just through his eyes and slight facial expressions. I have nothing but high praise for Bryce Dallas Howard’s performance. You may remember Howard as Claire from ‘Jurrasic World’ (2015), or from Season three of ‘Black Mirror’ (which I highly recommend you watch). Howard knocked the role of Kenny Wells’ girlfriend, Kay, out of the park. Through all his ups and downs, she showed a certain nuance, in that, she appeared to be supportive for a lot of that film, but the support seemed subtly thinner every time.

Despite being set in the 1980’s this film barely referenced it. There was nothing in this film, except some of the character’s clothing that made you chuckle and say ‘Oh, those were the days… Classic 80’s…’ Which is good, because if you did utter that sentence you would have immediately been filled with regret as you would have felt old. It’s okay, straighten out your purple and white tracksuit, and brush back your mullet; the 80’s wasn’t that long ago. Anyway, the fact that they didn’t ham up the time it was set in, I thought was a good thing. The time this happened didn’t have a lot to do with the message. By keeping less to do with with the 1980’s it becomes more of a timeless commentary on human greed and the flaws associated with greed. The idea being this message on the human condition could be inserted in any era.

These guys are going tear you up. Don’t ask me to watch what happens next”

– Kay

On the surface the storyline may seem a little bit dry, let me assure you it isn’t. I say too much about the plot as it will give too much away and take the impact out of it. Although at times it’s a bit of tiring trek, and McConaughey’s costume and makeup are distracting, this is a good film that is worth watching. There is plenty of light-hearted scenes in this film that will give you a laugh, as well dark scenes that will make you feel like your best friend is in trouble.

To sum up, I’ll say this, with McConaughey at the helm, ‘Gold absolutely delivers in its storytelling and its depiction of greed, pride, and how sometimes gold isn’t worth its weight.


  • McConaughey does it again
  • Interesting story
  • Bryce Dallas Howard was fantastic


  • Exhausting Format
  • McConaughey's Distracting Makeup and Wardrobe


I'm a Cinephile (the best kind of phile), very opinionated and love I to write. I could talk your ear off about films, it's actually quite hazardous and why I'm desperately lonely. Just kidding. Or am I?

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