Monday 13 February 2017

Gold (2017) - Movie Review

With how homogenised Hollywood releases can feel at times, it’s understandable if you get a feeling of Déjà vu from certain trailers. If you’ve seen one film about a young couple fighting to be together despite every reason why they shouldn’t be, you’ve seen them all. That kind of blanket statement is usually something even I turn my nose up at, but in some cases, those base assumptions are accurate. However, of all the reasons that I’ve seen in terms of feeling like you’re just watching the same trailers over and over again (aside from just flat-out seeing the same trailers over and over again), this is definitely a new one. In this case, it’s down to the use of music in the trailer.

Now, re-use of popular songs is nothing new but hearing Barns Courtney’s Glitter And Gold in the trailer for today’s film, after hearing it so often in the lead-up to the release of The Founder late last year, is rather off-putting. The fact that the two, even from the marketing, share a prominent trait concerning the American Dream doesn’t help that impression, but I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. Let’s dig right in… ugh… let’s get started with today’s film.

The plot: Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey), a struggling modern prospector, strikes it lucky in the jungles of Borneo with the help of geologist Michael Acosta (Édgar Ramírez). As his company’s stock worth continues to rise and offers come in to get a piece of the action, it seems that Kenny may crack under the pressure before he even gets a chance to enjoy his newfound wealth.

After the surprisingly fruitful year McConaughey had last year, mainly in voice-over work, it’s good to see that that momentum hasn’t stopped yet because he delivers the good once again here. The sheer ambition of his character is quite infectious with how McConaughey really gets the audience on his side and keep us there. Ramírez as Wells’ eventual benefactor, and linchpin for the film’s drama as the narrative carries on, acts very well alongside McConaughey, especially when he ends up carrying the drama when Well’s character gets incapacitated. Bryce Dallas Howard and Rachel Taylor have about as much impact on the overall production as each other, despite how much the film tries to build up Howard’s character as Well’s domestic partner. Aside from a couple other recognisable faces like Corey Stoll, Bruce Greenwood and Craig T. Nelson, all of whom do splendidly, that’s about it. That’s kind of the effect McConaughey has on a film: Whether intentionally or not, he makes it about him.

The story itself, shades removed from a real-life gold finding scandal, is pretty rudimentary. It wields the familiar rags-to-riches formula in a way that consistently makes it waver between the rags and the riches, both thematically and tonally. I’d almost call it melodramatic with how it keeps switching between them, cutting scenes of joyous triumph next to potential downfall at pretty much every turn. What’s more, it sticks to the shoutiest edges of those modes, meaning that emotions run high for the majority of the film. And yet, I wouldn’t call this taxing to watch; the enthusiasm and dour moods are very evident on screen, but not to the point where it feels like the audience is up to its scalp in it.

Maybe that’s because this film is at least competent at delivering the highs and lows, as portrayed by McConaughey’s very infectious charisma. When we see him sweating his own body weight from malaria, we want him to recover. When we see him arranging deals concerning the gold, we want him to succeed. And when he occasionally Fuchs up said deals, we want him to realise his mistakes and, thankfully, he does. Knowing the grey morality that usually permeates these sorts of stories concerning massive wealth, seeing a character that we wholeheartedly root for is definitely refreshing. Honestly, when it comes to the highs, it’s hard not to get lost in the frenzied elation of the characters involved, especially Kenny. Not since Watch The Throne has opulence the likes of which we will likely never see in our lifetimes been this appealing to see in someone else.

Of course, tremendous riches inevitably leads to tremendous downfall and the harsh reality of things does eventually surface to bring forward the core hubris of the story. It is also here where the American Dream commentary really kicks in, and considering how played-out that notion has become recently even in decent films (hi, The Founder), I’m surprised it works as well as it does here. Part of that is because of how it makes itself known and, while avoiding *SPOILERS*, it’s a nicely mundane yet poetic way of portraying the Dream: People so busy chasing money that they fail to see what they are running after to get it, and then realise the emptiness that lies within.

This is definitely helped by how it is epitomised through Kenny, a man who has more drive than business sense which leads to him making some weaker decisions… and yet, the humbling presence that McConaughey brings to the character actually wrings out a certain element of tragedy in the proceedings. He’s affable, but he’s so determined that we want him to prosper.

All in all, this is a rather nice feature. With an able-bodied cast and a script that seems to be aware of the clichéd trappings of its own themes, Stephen Gaghan and co. manage to deliver a solid story about a man who was desperate to show (and make) his own worth. We get brought along for the dizzying ride and with the note it all ends on, it is quite satisfying. Knowing the depths that portrayals of the Dream have fallen to of late (Oh, don’t even think that I’ve forgotten about YOU), it’s nice to know that there’s still some gold in this stream yet.

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