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All that glitters is not ‘Gold’

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McConaughey vehicle fails to shine

This time of the year, in the run-up to the Oscars, many moviegoers have their thoughts set on those movies that garnered the Academy’s attention. It’s a time to catch up on all of the nominated films that we haven’t yet had an opportunity to see.

We’ve got prestige pictures on the brain, yes – but what about those films that aspired to that same sort of prestige, but fell short somewhere along the way?

That’s the kind of movie you’re getting with “Gold.” This Matthew McConaughey-starring inspired-by-true-events tale of a down-on-his-luck prospector who stumbles onto one of the biggest gold finds in history, only to have those around him conspire to take it away from him, is pretty clearly intended to serve as awards-season fodder. It’s got the good-looking movie star uglying up and plenty of attempts at complex drama and extended metaphors and the whole shebang.

But for whatever reason, the pieces don’t fit together. It just doesn’t work.

McConaughey stars as Kenny Wells, third-generation owner of Washoe Mining, a Nevada-based outfit that has fallen on hard times since the glory days when Kenny’s father was in charge. He’s a hard-drinking, chain-smoking schlub, a hustler. He’s shady, but his employees are loyal and his girlfriend Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard, “Pete’s Dragon”) has an unshakeable faith in him.

With the last of his resources, Kenny heads to Indonesia to track down Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez, “Hands of Stone”), a reclusive geologist whose outside-the-box theories have captured Kenny’s imagination. The two team up and start working toward building a mining operation there in the jungle.

It’s a hard path, but at the end is more success than either of them could have possibly imagined. Kenny and Washoe Mining are riding high – so high that money men like investment banker Brian Woolf (Corey Stoll, “Café Society”) are trying to get in on the action. Kenny finds himself feeling overwhelmed by the difficulties of being a small fish in such a large pond.

And when the whole thing starts to come crashing down, Kenny is left to discover just who among those he trusted were in fact worth of that trust.

It seems obvious that “Gold” was meant to be an award-friendly turn for McConaughey. He’s the engine that drives the whole movie, with the added bonus of the bordering-on-cliché prestige movie appearance alteration. The pot belly and bad combover are meant to illustrate how serious McConaughey is being, but all I could think of was how much better Christian Bale did it in “American Hustle.” It’s not that he’s bad; there’s just not enough meat on the bone.

The supporting cast, talented as it is, doesn’t fare much better. Howard is actually pretty good here, but she’s not here enough to make much of a dent. Stoll feels kind of wasted; the role is straightforward and bland. He needed something interesting to do. Ramirez does his best – and some of the scenes with him and McConaughey are really quite good – but he can never quite endow the character with the nuance necessary to make us care.

And that’s really the biggest problem with “Gold” – it’s difficult to care. There’s a feeling of skipping off the surface, as if the film failed to execute its dive properly and couldn’t reach the depth for which it was intended. There are flashes here – moments where you can see the outline of the movie that they probably believed they were making. Unfortunately, those flashes are swallowed up by too-long takes and odd directorial choices, by inconsistent narration and a meandering pace.

It’s just a reminder that making the kind of movie that wins critical acclaim is actually really hard. There’s no formula. Sometimes, you can assemble all of the right pieces and still fail to put it all together in the desired fashion.

Sadly, “Gold” fails to glitter.

[2 out of 5]

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