Gold and all the images you see in this review are owned by TWC-Dimension
Directed by Stephen Gaghan
It’s getting a bit late in the year, but I guess we’ve still got a few more Oscar holdovers that need to recoup a few bucks from the general public; especially for ones like this that clearly didn’t get the recognition it was hoping for. Still, the big award shows don’t always know what the hell they’re doing (*cough* The King’s Speech *cough*), and it’s not like any of MY favorite films of 2016 got nominated for an Oscar, so maybe this one will turn out be to be a gem that no one else was able to recognize! Can Matthew McConaughey pull off yet another great performance in a movie about yet another eccentric oddball, or will this be forgotten like most of his pre-McConaissance work once he realized he was ACTUALLY good at acting? Let’s find out!!
The movie follows the misadventures of Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey) who’s a down on his luck prospector; barely managing to make ends meet after inheriting a successful mining company from his father. With his girlfriend by his side (Bryce Dallas Howard), he manages to keep from succumbing to total self-destruction, but his drinking isn’t helping the situation all that much and he needs ONE big score in order to get his company out of the red and his life out of the dumps. His big harebrained scheme is to get a SIMILARLY down on his luck geologist named Michael Acosta (Édgar Ramírez) to help him find a gold mine in the heart of Indonesia. It’s rough going at first, so much so that Kenny becomes deathly ill during the expedition, but he manages to pull through and they ACTUALLY find a gold mine! From there, Kenny has to deal with the avalanche of wealth that has landed right at his doorstop, the people who will try to take advantage of him, and of course those who want to put him out of business altogether. Can this schlubby guy with a TERRIBLE haircut manage to hack it in a world of millionaires and true professionals? How can this one dude fend off the biggest mining companies in the world and even the Indonesian government who are looking for ANY opportunity to snatch his gold mine out from under him? Seriously, what’s with that hair!? Either get the hair plugs or shave the damn thing off!
It’s… alright I guess as far as Wolf of Wall Street knockoffs go, but the thing is that Martin Scorsese’s masterful character piece was so damn good that it’s poisoned the well for its imitators; setting a bar so high that no one dumb enough to try to take the throne could possibly do so. This is where this movie finds itself; trapped in the shadow of its most obvious contemporary and never really managing to do enough different with the formula to be anything other than a decent impression. Even if we take away the fact that The Wolf of Wall Street does everything better and try to look at this without that baggage, I still found myself getting bored with this as Kenny Wells just isn’t all that interesting of a person; beore or after he finds the gold. The film tries to get us invested in him as a character, and Matthew McConaughey (at least the NEW Matthew McConaughey) could make watching paint dry a worthwhile and fulfilling experience, but the rise to power and eventual fall from grace story that they’re telling isn’t done with much originality or with a unique angle to sell us on other than I guess the guy is kind of a slob. The movie doesn’t even try all that hard to get us invested in what HE’S passionate about which is the process of mining (or I guess more specifically SETTING UP mines for other people to dig) which COULD have been more interesting if the camera wasn’t so damned focused on putting the main star IN the movie rather than making it HIS movie. Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese were so perfectly in sync in that movie that the three hours just FLEW by. Matthew McConaughey and Stephen Gaghan in this film though don’t seem to have that kind of magic, so even at two hours this felt WAY too long and was just not nearly as interesting.
There are parts of this movie that work; namely the first act and the tail end of the third act. The opening scene where Kenny Wells is the usual smooth and buff Matthew McConaughey is a fantastic set up for when we cut to several years later where life had completely worn him down in a way that’s too realistic for films to normally take a chance on doing. I mean, this isn’t Robert De Nero in Raging Bull (or even Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club) but the ways in which he makes himself movie ugly (by which I mean rather normal looking for a guy his age) pay off very well with the themes they’re trying to get across in this character piece. He’s a schmuck who MIGHT have been someone great at one time being thrust into a world where no one gives him the time of day or even the respect he deserves; something he’s very much aware of and reacts both brilliantly and foolishly to try and prove them wrong. Unfortunately, the part of the movie where all that is supposed to be built up for his eventual downfall is just not all that interesting. The second act just goes on for way too long and it’s all stuff we’ve seen a million times before even if we haven’t seen it with a balding Matthew McConaughey. This is where the movie should be at its most exhilarating as Kenny gets everything he ever wanted and finds out that it’s a mixed blessing; especially when everyone else is trying to take it from him. The way it comes across though is a couple of boring business meetings, a pointless trip to his mine with a couple of investors, and his wife calling him out for falling in with the people who are just trying to make money off of him. It’s all reactionary from Kenny who doesn’t have much ambition beyond keeping hold of what he has, and he really doesn’t have to do THAT much to hold onto it. Now towards the end of the second there’s a part where he ACTUALLY needs to fight back which is one of the best parts of the film and shows that he’s a lot tougher than anyone is giving him credit for, but it doesn’t quite make up for so much of the movie before then feeling like it was on autopilot.
The best part of the movie comes at the end when we get the big twist and it manages to bring everything together in an ingenious manner. A lot of the more outlandish parts of the premise are shown in a new light which causes them to make much more sense, and the final shot of the movie is one of the best examples of a satisfyingly ambiguous conclusion that I can recall in quite some time. Unfortunately, the third act also introduces the feds who COULD have been an interesting addition to this story (they even got Toby Kebbell to be the lead investigator), but it’s just not around long enough to have any real impact and their presence feels particularly phoned in. It’s a lot like the FBI framing device from Black Mass, and it didn’t work particularly well in that film either. Still, even if these scenes feel kind of pointless because of how short they are, their brevity also means they don’t really detract from everything else that works about the third act.
Speaking of Toby Kebbell, this movie has a REALLY phenomenal cast with some standout performances, but feels kind of wasted when so much is focused on Mattehw McConaughey Sure, Edgar Rameriez gets almost as much screen time and Bryce Dallas Howard manages to stick around for most of it, but how do you manage to waste Stacy Keach!? I LOVE THAT GUY!! You’ve also got Craig T Nelson, Corey Stoll, the aforementioned Toby Kebbell, all turning up for minor roles and then just leaving to make more room for McConaughey shtick. It never feels like anything really matters in this movie other than McConaughey finding gold as everything other than the mine itself feels like disposable distractions. Not BAD distractions I guess, if that’s all you have then you’ve got a pretty shallow experience.
The movie really isn’t BAD, it just should have been a lot of better considering the pedigree behind it and the cast they’ve assembled. None of it really comes together in a satisfying manner and it never manages to live up to what it clearly WANTS to be. It’s still worth checking out at SOME point for the performances (particularly McConaughey) but you don’t need to waste your time sitting through this in a theater; especially when a good chunk right in the middle is EXTREMELY tedious with plot points and themes that we’ve already seen done better in other movies. The dude was already in The Wolf of Wall Street, so it’s not like he doesn’t know what this kind of film looks like when it’s done right!
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