It’s been said that Matthew McConaughey is a character actor trapped in a leading man’s body. His latest film, “Gold,” directed by Stephen Gaghan, is his most extreme character work yet, with him playing a balding, paunchy, cigarette-chomping gold prospector in the 1980s.
McConaughey plays Kenny Wells, a third-generation Reno mining prospector, carrying the Washoe Mining Co. through good times and bad. By 1988, he and his employees are operating out of a bar, trying to get investors to finance mineral mines around the world. Kenny’s at the end of his rope when he has a dream — a vision during a whiskey-soaked slumber — of a tropical valley ripe with undiscovered gold.
This dream is significant, as it makes the notion of the American Dream — work hard and you’ll strike the mother lode — real and tangible. In “Gold,” it’s the dreamers who are the heroes, the guys who are good despite their dubious actions and questionable character. They have faith — faith that they’ll strike it rich. “Just like my dream,” Kenny whispers as he gazes over an undeveloped Indonesian valley with his new partner, Mike Acosta (Edgar Ramirez).
The bankers are the bad guys. Their stamp of approval provides the validation Kenny seeks, but their cynicism gets the better of them. Investment banker Brian (Corey Stoll), who discovered Kenny’s outfit, refers to him as a “drunk raccoon who got handed the Hope diamond.” It’s their lack of faith that positions them as the villains. Disloyalty to the American Dream isn’t tolerated in this fable of individual perseverance.
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At times, the story feels compressed, with some jarring transitions, as the narrative makes room for the twists and turns to play out, which they eventually do. But McConaughey swings for the fences with bold acting choices and a studious lack of vanity, and he manages to create a seamless, inhabited performance. It’s a performance that should have garnered awards attention.
Late in the film, Kenny claims that he has never cared much for money, that he only ever cared about gold. For him, it’s the thrill of the chase. His faith in himself and his luck makes up his morality and perfectly espouses the neo-liberal individualism that makes up most Hollywood hero tales. But this story shows that the American Dream is always a huge gamble, built on little more than hopes and dreams.
Rated R for language throughout and some sexuality/nudity. 2:01. Fayette Mall, Frankfort, Georgetown, Hamburg, Nicholasville, Richmond, Winchester.