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Movie Review

Kenny Wells doesn't mind getting a little dirty. You might say it's part of the job.

Kenny's a miner. Not an old-school, Yosemite Sam-like prospector with a pickaxe and a gold pan, but a businessman equipped with core samples and geological reports. He heads up Washoe Mining, a company his grandfather pulled straight from the ground and his father turned into a real player.

But the earth doesn't give up its treasures easily. Good finds are harder and harder to come by these days, and a downturn in the industry hasn't helped. By 1988, Washoe is almost washed up. The company's lost its office, and Kenny now does business in a seedy bar. He and his employees are grafted to their phones, desperate to wrangle new investors and raise more capital. Kenny's lost his house, too, and he now lives with his longtime girlfriend, Kay. He's balding and out of shape. Maybe those physical changes aren't due to job stress, but they sure don't help anything.

The mother lode? To Kenny, Washoe must feel like the mother of all loads.

Then he has a dream—a dream of a lush, beautiful paradise. When he wakes up, he knows where it is: Indonesia. He knows what it means: There's gold underneath that wet, green canopy. And he knows what to do about it: talk to a semi-renowned geologist who's positive there's gold there, too.

Kenny sells his watch to buy a plane ticket to southeast Asia and rendezvous with the savvy, smooth geologist, Michael Acosta. They draw up a contract on an old napkin and get to work, pulling core samples—plugs from deep in the earth—to confirm what they both believe.

But the first samples aren't promising. The next ones are worse. The money's running out. Workers leave. And, on top of everything else, Kenny contracts malaria and spends the next several weeks writhing in a sick, feverish haze.

Dripping with sweat, he turns to Michael and presses his personal credit cards into his partner's hands. There's about $2,000 worth of credit between them, he says. That's all he has left. "Use it," Kenny gasps. "Use it all, Mikey." Use it to bring back the workers, to keep the operation going. "Don't let me die out here for nothing."

Kenny doesn't die. His fever breaks, leaving the miner sane and coherent again. He asks about the latest samples.

"Not good," Michael says, feigning a frown. "More like great."

And then he tells Kenny—his bewildered, bedraggled, on-his-last-nickel business partner—that they're sitting, quite literally, on a gold mine.

Positive Elements

Kenny (pardon the pun) digs his work. It's been pretty good to him in the past. But we get the sense that there's more driving him than just a big payday and financial security. Indeed, he's striving to preserve the legacy established and bequeathed by his grandfather and father. He's determined not to let Washoe go belly up. He can't bear to see his dad's beloved business wither and die on his watch.

When business starts booming again, every step Kenny takes seems to be guided by his father's memory. He moves Washoe from the bar back into the same building his father once used. He partners with his dad's longtime bankers—even after lackeys from that very same bank had turned down Kenny's desperate plea for cash.

But money can do funny things to a person. And when Kenny gets swept up in all that mammon (and the attention that goes with it), his girlfriend, Kay, tries to keep him grounded. Kenny dismissively waves away her concerns, telling her that she thinks too small and is too easily satisfied with her small house and insignificant life. But Kay fiercely shoots back that she likes her life. "It's real," she says. There's nothing wrong with honest work and modest pay, she insists. And she's right … no matter what Kenny believes.

Spiritual Content

Kenny almost sees his Indonesian initiative in spiritual terms. He first saw the location of the mine in a dream. And when he arrives at the place he dreamed about, he says that it was "like I was being called. It was the gold calling."

We hear a reference to Kenny's dearly departed father, whom someone says is likely smiling down on Kenny. We also hear a reference to a "hail Mary" pass.

Sexual Content

Kenny and Kay have been together for years, but they've never gotten married. We see them kiss and embrace passionately while lying down, though nothing critical is shown. When Kenny shows Kay a parcel of land that he imagines building their dream house on—a house he'd like to see filled with their children—the two tumble suggestively into the grass for another bout of smooching and, the film implies (but doesn't show), lovemaking.

But Kenny strays from his longtime girlfriend while he's in the throes of success. He meets a woman named Rachel who plays footsie with him as they talk. (Kay sees it and is not amused.) Later, they end up in a hot tub together, naked (though nudity is obscured by the water). She floats over to him and they appear to be on the verge of having sex. But when a rival businessman comes by, Kenny gets out of the hot tub (exposing his bare rear) to greet him.

Women sometimes wear sexy, cleavage-baring garb and flirt seductively with some male characters. A couple of guys play "chicken" with some bikini-clad women in a pool. Scantily clad Reno showgirls appear in the background of a scene or two.

Kenny often walks around in his tighty-whiteys—an uncomfortable habit for both his associates and the audience. He also bends over suggestively (though fully clothed) and holds his ankles in an angry illustration of what he feels his enemies want to do to him.

Violent Content

Someone slugs Kenny in the mouth. Kenny and Michael, during an obvious low point in their working relationship, get into a physical altercation. Kenny throws drinking glasses into walls and, once, through a louvered door.

Someone apparently jumps (or is perhaps pushed from) a helicopter. We don't see the fall, but we do glimpse a lifeless body on the ground afterward, surrounded by wild pigs. We're told that the pigs ate away the man's face and hands.

There's talk about a rival being a "killer." Kenny's malaria makes him quite sick, and he tells us that the disease kills about a million people a year.

Crude or Profane Language

Nearly 85 f-words and more than 20 s-words. We also hear "a--," "d--n," "h---," "p---y" and "pr--k." Kenny has a fondness for pairing God's name with "d--n," which he does about 25 times. God's name is elsewhere misused three times, while Jesus' name is abused once.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Kenny consumes an incredible amount of alcohol. He brags that one afternoon he downed a half-gallon of Seagrams and still managed to function. Kenny's beverage of choice is whiskey, but we see him sip some Pabst Blue Ribbon beer on occasion, too. When Washoe gets its own real office again, Kenny and his employees make sure the accompanying fridge is stuffed with cases of it.

Because he's always drinking and almost always working, most of Kenny's business is conducted while he's either a little under the influence or, sometimes, completely drunk. His first conversation with Michael involves plenty of liquor. He goes out drinking with the son of the Indonesian president in an effort to secure mining rights: During the evening, the son agrees to partner with them if Kenny, who's clearly intoxicated, goes into a tiger's cage and touches the animal on the head. (He does.) Kenny smokes a great deal, too; he's constantly reaching for or lighting another cigarette.

But sometimes even by his own insane standards, Kenny overdoes it. One night when things are going sour, he drunkenly dials a payphone, unwisely calling Kay, with whom he had a huge, relationship-severing fight with some time ago. The next morning, we see Kenny passed out beneath that same outside payphone.

Kay orders a double shot of whiskey at a bar. Several scenes take place inside bars or nightclubs. People pour and drink champagne in celebration.

Other Negative Elements

When Kenny and Michael make their splash in the jungles of Indonesia, plenty of interests want a share of the wealth. And if they can't get it legally, they'll use underhanded means to secure the treasure. When Kenny spurns one gold tycoon, for instance, the man simply greases enough palms to get the Indonesian government to shut the Washoe operation down. We see a number of underhanded business practices in play throughout, fostered by bribes, lies and half-truths.

[Spoiler Warning] The biggest lie of all? Kenny and Michael didn't actually find gold in this story, one that's based loosely on the real 1993 Bre-X mining scandal. We're led to believe that when Kenny was in his malarial haze, Michael "salted" the samples with gold to make the ground look much richer. Then, as Washoe stock soared, Michael sold his shares and ran off with $164 million in ill-gotten gains. While some authorities believe he was killed, Kenny later receives a letter containing their original contract (written on a napkin) and a check for $82 million. Though the movie seems to imply that Kenny knew nothing about Michael's duplicity, we're left to wonder whether he actually cashes the check.

Conclusion

Gold, like its protagonists, gets a little lost. There's a story here somewhere. But the makers don't know where to dig.

Is Kenny a hero? A dreamer? A shyster? All of the above? Is this a Robin Hood yarn or a cautionary tale? Are we supposed to root for him to strike it rich as he struggles against his deep-pocketed adversaries? Or are we supposed to root for him to come to his senses as his girlfriend suggests, then settle into a quiet, rewarding life doing something else? Something real, as Kay might say.

This movie never seems sure which story it wants to tell. And its lack of focus doesn't feel so much like artsy ambiguity as it does lazy uncertainty. That, and the vein of problematic content we strike here, leaves us little place to dig.

If this film wanted to make a salient point about the value of hard work or the perils of greed, that'd give us at least something to work with. But Gold's core reveals little of value, just a bunch of dirt salted with language, alcohol and sensuality.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults

Credits

Rating

R

Readability Age Range

Genre

Drama

Author

Cast

Matthew McConaughey as Kenny Wells; Edgar Ramirez as Michael Acosta; Bryce Dallas Howard as Kay; Corey Stoll as Brian Woolf; Toby Kebbell as Jennings; Bruce Greenwood as Mark Hancock; Rachael Taylor as Rachel; Craig T. Nelson as Kenny's father; Stacy Keach as Clive Coleman

Director

Stephen Gaghan ( SyrianaAbandon)

Distributor

The Weinstein Company

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

January 27, 2017

On Video

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Paul Asay

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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