[Screen It]


(2016) (Matthew McConaughey, Edgar Ramirez) (R)

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Drama: A down-on-his-luck American prospector figuratively and literally believes he's struck gold when he partners with a geologist and finds what could be the mother lode of such deposits.
It's the late 1980s and Kenny Wells (MATTHEW McCONAUGHEY) is telling his life story to Paul Jennings (TOBY KEBBELL) who's mostly interested in what's happened of recent. Going back a bit in time, we learn that Kenny comes from a long family line of precious metals prospectors, but his mining business located in Reno, Nevada has seen better days.

With a recession in full swing and having lost his house, he now lives with his girlfriend, Kay (BRYCE DALLAS HOWARD), and even pawns the watch he gave her as a gift for cash to pay for a ticket to Indonesia. It seems he had a dream about finding a gold deposit in the jungles there and thus meets with geologist Michael Acosta (EDGAR RAMIREZ) who's been unable to convince investors of such a potential strike in that region.

Although initially reluctant, he eventually agrees to a partnership with Kenny and the two hire local men to begin a mining operation deep in the jungle. After a brief setback and in the midst of Kenny suffering from malaria, they appear to hit the mother lode. That soon draws the interest of Wall Street, including from investment banker Brian Woolf (COREY STOLL) who informs the men that they need a strategic partner in order to make the most of their find. When that falls apart, they do get a partner, albeit an unlikely one, in Darmadi 'Danny' Suharto (JIRAHU TANTRAKUL), the somewhat disgraced adult son of the military leader who's recently taken over the mining site.

With that now back in operation, the gold and resultant money start flowing and Kenny once again becomes a big hit on Wall Street. But he, Kay and everyone else involved aren't ready for the related problems that are about to fall on them.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
How interesting that over a span of two weeks in late January we've had two films -- that had limited release Oscar qualifying runs at the end of 2016 -- opening wide that are based on true tales and feature down-on-their-luck, middle-aged American males who come across a business venture that's potentially lucrative. They then pursue that with persistent and relentless abandon and overcome various obstacles to hit the mother lode of riches, only to have such success ultimately ruin their relationships with their significant others.

The first such offering was last week's release of "The Founder," a drama based on the true-life story of Ray Kroc seeing gold in them 'thar hamburger buns of the McDonald brothers' fast food operation, followed by him franchising such a business and raking in the money.

This week, we have the drama "Gold" that's inspired by true events, meaning a fair amount of artistic liberties have been taken by director Stephen Gaghan ("Syriana") and screenwriters Patrick Massett & John Zinman. Their tale is based on the Bre-X Minerals Ltd. scandal of the mid-1990s where that company's founder, David Walsh, and geologist John Felderhof bought property in a jungle near the Busang River in Borneo, Indonesia in 1993 and announced the discovery of obscene amounts of gold two years later. The company's stock price soared to approximately $6.6 billion (in adjusted U.S. amounts).

But then it was discovered their operation was fraudulent in that it was salting (adding gold or silver to) the ore samples to change the perceived value of the find. Natch, things went south from there and, double-natch, the sound of such a scheme was too good for the movie world to pass up.

I don't know why the names of the principals or their company have been changed, but the general story throughput remains the same. As does the muted response from Hollywood voters who've left the gold (statuette) mining attempts by both films hitting zilch.

None of which is to say that either is a bad flick, and like "The Founder," this one benefits from a terrific (but not quite Oscar caliber) performance from its lead. Shunning any and all vestiges of perceived vanity, Matthew McConaughey shows up as Kenny Wells, a balding, overweight, snaggle-toothed Reno man who has prospecting in his family blood.

With the recession having taken its toll on the company he inherited from his father (Craig T. Nelson, featured briefly in an opening scene set seven years before the main tale), Wells is grasping at straws and is willing to following the most meager of prospects, even if that shows up in the form of a dream.

Following his slumber-induced vision of gold in the jungles of Indonesia, he pawns the watch he gave his girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) and sets off to find geologist Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez) who once hit it big, but now can't find an investor to believe in his latest "the hills are alive, with the sparkle of gold ore" proclamations. That's music and precious mineral catnip to his ears and nose and thus the two men form a partnership, strike it big (after a number of setbacks) and then deal with the good and bad things that follow.

While the story starts to feel a bit disjointed and then far-fetched at times after the big hit (I have no idea if some or all of what's presented actually took place or are just some flights of fancy moments for the filmmakers), McConaughey sells it and his character with enough believable gusto that you don't mind going along for the mining ride. Ramirez is far more understated in his role (which makes sense considering how everything plays out), while Howard only really gets one meaty scene with which to work. Most everyone else has meager parts at best.

But that's mostly okay as it's McConaughey who shines brightest here in a seriously deglamorized role and performance. And while the overall film might not reach 24-karat standards, he and the engaging if occasionally flawed story make "Gold" worth investing your time and money. It rates as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed January 23, 2017 / Posted January 27, 2017

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