Matthew McConaughey’s recent spate of critically acclaimed and commercially lucrative performances has led several enthusiasts to dub the actor’s career revival “the McConaissance.” His rash of successful roles in films such as “True Detective” and ”Interstellar,” as well as a notable cameo in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” culminated in an Oscar win for his role as an AIDS-afflicted pharmaceutical pioneer in “Dallas Buyers Club.”
However, the actor has faced negative reviews of his most recent roles in films such as “Free State of Jones” and “The Sea of Trees.” Director Stephen Gaghan’s “Gold” was meant to launch McConaughey’s triumphant return to the big leagues. Despite his best efforts, the film’s overall weaknesses dampen McConaughey’s performance.
His turn in “Gold” as modern mining prospector Kenny Wells showcases his ability to portray the American everyman. Whether it is as an inveterate alcoholic, a sleazy businessman or a desperate individual weighed down by the imminence of his own death, McConaughey’s layered performances display his overwhelming talent.
McConaughey captures neurosis and despair in a manner that evokes empathy, understanding and visceral shock.
His physical transformation to a portly prospector serves to illustrate the character’s personal compulsions and nuances. The character’s pervasive sweat, crooked yellow teeth, balding combover and protruding gut depict his status as an outsider in the traditional clean-cut businessman crowd.
Despite his unseemly physical appearance, McConaughey brings his characteristic charm and charisma to the role. Ultimately, his enactment of Kenny Wells is a continuation of his calling card as a portrayer of enigmatic and sociable figures.
Gaghan provides notable direction along the course of the character’s development, but he does not adequately expand the other areas of the film which would have led to a more cohesive final product.
A veteran craftsman of harrowing narratives, as seen in his script for Steven Soderbergh’s “Traffic,” Gaghan focuses intently on both the man and entrepreneur behind Wells. With close-framed shots and exquisitely presented physical changes, he manages to capture the intensity of Wells’ fervor as well as his deep angst throughout the course of the film.
The majority of the film is a close observation of McConaughey’s character, which deprives other elements of the film of sufficient progression. Cinematography, plot development and supporting character narratives are not provided ample space to develop.
The range of locales encountered in “Gold” are never reach their full cinematographic worth. Although Gaghan contrasts Reno’s kitschy suburbs with the lush, verdant jungles of Indonesia and New York’s haughty environs, the director never really takes advantage of these regions from a scenic perspective. The camerawork appears generic and misses an opportunity to provide a multifaceted perspective on the characters through the environment around them.
The plot has a litany of underdeveloped sequences, quickly-resolved conflicts and a cast of unmemorable characters. The scriptwriters for “Gold” evidently pushed in the direction of creating a corporate profile piece that straddles the line between comedic corporate thriller and American heartland drama without ever committing properly to either. Although McConaughey brings his gravitas as a character actor, the plot fails to use the environment and characters around him to accentuate his persona.
He is neither the no-holds-barred eccentric corporate leader nor the inspiring and persevering small-time entrepreneur, but a shallow caricature in between. Although McConaughey’s performance succeeds, the overall development of Wells’s narrative falls short. Aside from McConaughey, no character develops a sufficiently captivating personal arc. The excessive amount of attention Gaghan grants McConaughey prevents Bryce Dallas Howard’s and Edgar Ramirez’s performances from reaching their true potential. Instead, their characters ring hollow, relying on formulaic dramatic artifices.
“Gold” fails to capture viewers’ attention with shocking scenes, which its R-rated status would have certainly allowed it to craft. Gaghan dedicates an overwhelming amount of time to the singular abilities of Matthew McConaughey, which inevitably stifles any other artistic expressions in the film.
This strategy of placing the onus on McConaughey to deliver a performance that can cover the apparent deficiencies does work in certain places. It is difficult to state whether the film would have been better had McConaughey not been the main point of focus in the film or if he was the only redeeming quality it had, but, ultimately, his performance, unlike the rest of the movie, is captivating.
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