Gold is a movie that seeks to be two things at once: a bushwhacking jungle adventure and a shark-tank finance thriller. It doesn't fail exactly, or not entirely: the picture looks okay (although Robert Elswit has done better work) and the actors aren't phoning it in. But the movie does fail to be very interesting, and even Matthew McConaughey in full hyper-overdrive can't make it so.
The story is "inspired by actual events," as they say—which in this case means it's based on a big mining-business scandal that occurred in Canada in the late 1990s and has now been transported across the border to Reno, Nevada, in the late 1980s. McConaughey—fitted out with a real pot belly, a faux balding pate, and an odd prosthetic tooth—plays Kenny Wells, head of a failing family mining company that desperately needs a major score. Kenny hears about a hot young geologist named Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez) who has a new prospecting theory that involves… I dunno, tectonic plates or something ("Ring of Fire," it's called). This theory appears to be legit: Acosta recently discovered a large copper lode in Indonesia that has enriched everyone associated with it. Kenny hocks a couple of watches and flies to Borneo to meet this guy. Soon they're in business together, searching for gold.
The movie is tiringly peripatetic. In Borneo, we follow Kenny and Acosta as they traipse through endless monsoons and mud lands on their way to a brief bout of malaria. (There's also a passing mention of headhunters, who, alas, never arrive—which is too bad, because this is a movie that could really use some headhunters.) Then Kenny flies back to Reno—to plant a kiss on his boringly loyal girlfriend, Bryce Dallas Howard—and soon to New York, to beat the corporate bushes for investment capital to keep his gold hunt going. Back and forth, back and forth he goes, facing off against increasingly deceitful money men (Corey Stoll, Stacy Keach, Bruce Greenwood) on each trip.
Lightning finally strikes, of course. One day Acosta announces he's discovered a huge gold field that could be worth billions of dollars. Kenny figures his days of impoverishment are finally over. Then, naturally, new problems arise.
McConaughey is never dull to watch. But he's so over-amped here—smoking and swearing and sweating and chewing up scenery as if it were all-you-cant-eat kobe beef—that it sometimes seems as if the other actors are just lying back to watch in admiration as he lets rip. Ramirez, an actor with the gift of charismatic stillness, fares best. Director Stephen Gaghan mostly stays out of the way.
The movie ends on an annoying note. First there's a twist; then there's a second twist that sets up a substantial narrative complication that the picture has no time left to address. In the normal course of things this development might be dealt with in a sequel. But I don't think we'll be seeing one of those.