Gold | Movie+TV Reviews | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Published January 25, 2017 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated January 27, 2017 at 8:06 p.m.

The envelope, please. And the award for Loopiest Completely Fabricated Fact-Based Drama in Which a Famous Actor Radically Alters His Appearance for No Apparent Reason goes to ... this nutty production. What else? Believe me, unless the Academy adds that category to February's ceremony, this wacked-out project doesn't stand a chance in hell of striking Oscar gold.

It's hard to imagine what producer Harvey Weinstein could have been thinking when he decided to launch an awards campaign for this confused, inconsequential cartoon. One of the year's 10 most significant films? I'm not sure Gold would make a list of the year's 10 most significant made-for-TV movies about failed Canadian business ventures. Did I mention that's the movie's subject?

I swear I'm not making that up. Directed by Stephen Gaghan (Syriana) and scripted by Patrick Massett and John Zinman, Gold appropriates the story of the $6 billion Bre-X Minerals scandal of the 1990s, inexplicably relocating that scandal from Calgary to Reno, Nev. For reasons never made clear, the film's creators also changed the period to the '80s. (So they could fill the soundtrack with their favorite New Order, Joy Division and Talking Heads tunes, perhaps?) And that $6 billion? It's now ballooned to $30 billion. The Hollywood exchange rate, I suppose.

When I say the film "appropriates" the story, I mean "forgets all about it" and substitutes something infinitely cornier and almost comically derivative. This is a movie in which Matthew McConaughey rips off Matthew McConaughey. He plays a totally fictitious character named Kenny Wells, who's clearly based on real-life Bre-X president David Walsh. You can Google him. The dude had a full, lustrous head of hair. So one may wonder why the actor chose to undergo such a random physical transformation for the role, gaining weight and going bald.

Wells is a dumpier, drunker version of the character McConaughey played so memorably in The Wolf of Wall Street. He's a born hustler. Only, instead of stock trades, his stock-in-trade is finding reserves of precious metals. Early on, the prospector drinks half a gallon of Seagram's (right) and has a dream. Later, he joins forces with rock-star geologist Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramírez, playing a composite part), who escorts him to a secluded spot in the jungles of Borneo. Acosta claims there's gold there. You guessed it: the very spot depicted in Wells' dream.

Hard-to-swallow stuff like that happens a lot in this movie's 121 minutes. Wells and Acosta don't just find gold; they find what they claim is the largest strike ever. Bre-X Minerals — or Washoe Mining, as it's called here — makes everyone within a mile of it super-rich while attracting billions in investor revenue.

Movie critic law prohibits me from giving away the third-act twist. Which is kind of crazy, since anyone with a smartphone is only about five taps away from it. There's a reasonable chance you know about it already, given that it's only the most notorious financial scam in Canadian history.

Though, as I say, the record and the plot of Gaghan's failed epic (epic fail?) overlap only rarely. For example, I'm not even going to look this one up. I'm just going to assume the fictitiousness of the late scene in which a plastered Wells breaks into an Indonesian zoo with the son of President Suharto (of The Act of Killing fame) and subdues a growling tiger, armed only with eye contact. When it comes to hokey, McConaughey-squandering nonsense, Gold hits the mother lode.