In 1981, a man stands at a window in his office, one showing a huge expanse of blue Nevada sky. He pours himself a drink and looks out, saying, "God, we work hard in this business."
The business in question is mining, the passion of one Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey). He's the latest generation in a family of men who've made their fortunes and passed it along. Wells fingers a picture of his grandfather on the wall, showing it to his girlfriend Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard) to talk about all the man accomplished, later saying he "died with dirt underneath his fingernails. I intend to do the same."
Wells works with the man by the window, his father (Craig T. Nelson). The way they talk, it's clear that mining isn't only a business to them; the discovery of a new mineral deposit has near spiritual significance to Wells. And when matters of the spirit are involved, devotion often has to be proven by suffering.
Seven years later, Wells' dad is gone and their business has been ravaged by a faltering economy and bad luck. Wells is a picture of grunginess now, his loose pants bagging around his feet, his skin blotchy, his hair long but severely receded. Wells makes his bar an office and Kay's home a bar as he tries to secure one big final deal. He tracks down Michael Acosta (Édgar Ramírez), a geologist in Indonesia who might be onto the next big find.
What follows is a play on the pitfalls of success. It came early to Wells, inflated his ego; he's unable to contain himself, even with the calming presence and friendship of Acosta, making him easy opposition for the Wall Street types present: they want to take Wells and Acosta's money.
Gold juxtaposes these kinds of calm, well-spoken, outwardly-professional men, played by Corey Stoll and Bruce Greenwood to Acosta and so on, with Wells. Though we might cringe at some of his actions, at least his temper tantrums are unflaggingly honest.
As Kay, Bryce Dallas Howard isn't given the opportunity to show much in her noticeably underwritten character. What we learn about her could be counted on one hand: she works at a bar, owns a home, likes when Wells buys her things and doesn't like when he's a jerk.
But then, so many elements of the film don't feel undercooked. The soundtrack is of the period, featuring the Pixies, Joy Division, New Order and a new song by Iggy Pop that's in keeping with the rest, but none of that is to the same world as any of these characters. The scenes of Indonesian jungle and boardroom intrigue should come with some excitement; instead, the film is filled with long, languid periods.
The selling, the Wall Street greed, the excess –– parts of Gold recall The Wolf of Wall Street, at least superficially. But that film, in which McConaughey had one standout scene, took a long, hard look at the appeal of financial success at the expense of all else. In Gold, we consider life's power to build a man up or destroy him, without fully being convinced of why Wells' faith in gold in the ground is admirable — or even really compelling. (Elevation Pictures)