Review: The McConaissance reaches its limits in 'Gold'

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Posted: Jan 25, 2017 5:26 PM
Review: The McConaissance reaches its limits in 'Gold'

The Reformation toppled the Renaissance but the decline of the McConaissance is harder to delineate.

It was probably inevitable that Matthew McConaughey's bold rebirth — that terrific run of "True Detective" ''Magic Mike," ''The Wolf of Wall Street," ''Interstellar," ''Mud" and "Dallas Buyers Club" — would dissipate. Could it have been those Lincoln ads that signaled the end to his grand second act?

In any case, the woefully misguided "Gold," which follows the almost as equally disappointing "Sea of Trees" and "Free State of Jones," confirms that the McConaissance, wonderful as it was, is over. It's not for lack of effort. In those films and "Gold," McConaughey has maintained a torrid commitment to his roles. But the quality of the material isn't holding up.

"Gold," directed by Stephen Gaghan ("Syriana"), is a fictionalized account of the notorious Bre-X Minerals swindle of the 1990s in which a Borneo prospector named Michael de Guzman falsified core samples of an Indonesian site's richness in gold. The fraud eventually came crashing down, but not before his apparently historic discovery made Bre-X a $6 billion company and the toast of Wall Street and the mining industry.

Gaghan and co-writers Patrick Massett and John Zinman have extrapolated the tale and, in doing so, distorted it beyond both recognition and plausibility. The filmmakers may have had in mind a stylized romp like "The Wolf of Wall Street": a movie about fraud that is its own kind of fraud, taking viewers along for a ride. But, unmoored from reality, "Gold" plays like a cheap knockoff version of Martin Scorsese's film and others ("The Big Short," ''American Hustle") that have plundered more deeply and more specifically into the fool's gold of get-rich-quick America.

Bre-X founder and penny stock trader David Walsh has been turned into Kenny Wells (McConaughey), a mining executive desperate to strike it rich with his inherited company. The Calgary-based Bre-X has been turned into Washoe Mining and transplanted to Reno. Tall tales about the American Dream, after all, don't work so well in Canada.

De Guzman has been made into Michael Acosta, a confident mineral expert played by an Edgar Ramirez who looks unsure of both his character and the film he finds himself in. (Considering the silly twist that befalls him late in the movie, Ramirez has good reason to feel on shaky ground.)

McConaughey, however, is not one to ever look lost. He pours himself into Wells, a good-natured, potbellied huckster with a receding hairline. He's not a bad guy, though, and his idealism, his wide-eyed love for mining gold makes him both likable and uninteresting. He's an old-school entrepreneur increasingly out of his depth in a corporate world he doesn't understand. He's a dreamer and a sucker — the hoax's mark not its perpetuator. It's a fine protagonist that would fit another film, but not one with him as the central figure in a billion-dollar scandal of his own making.

The intense charisma of McConaughey is nearly enough to keep "Gold" from sinking. But the film keeps restyling itself in progressively absurd shifts. Sometimes it's a buddy film about Wells and Acosta. Other times it decides Wells' previously forgotten wife (Bryce Dallas Howard) is crucial, after all, to the story, only to dispense with her again.

McConaughey, in one of his lesser periods, already made a film called "Fool's Gold," a misbegotten romantic comedy with Kate Hudson. He has since left those days behind him, but "Gold" proves that for even the reborn McConaughey, there are limits. So instead of seeing "Gold," go back and watch his cocaine-sniffing, chest-thumping scene in "The Wolf of Wall Street." Now that was pure 24-karat stuff.

"Gold," a Weinstein Co. release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for "language throughout and some sexuality/nudity." Running time: 121 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.

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Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP