Gold is the epic tale of one man's pursuit of the American dream, to discover gold. Starring Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey as Kenny Wells, a prospector desperate for a lucky break, he teams up with a similarly eager geologist and sets off on an amazing journey to find gold in the uncharted jungle of Indonesia. Getting the gold was hard, but keeping it would be even harder, sparking an adventure through the most powerful boardrooms of Wall Street.
I used to believe that the films backed by The Weinstein Company (as well as those that the brothers produced prior to the formation of their own studio) were the most promising. By daring to output products wildly different than the standard safe studio pics, almost everything that they delivered appeared to be golden. I don't know if the Weinsteins or my taste has changed, but Weinstein-produced films hardly do anything for me now. They often miss more than they hit. Each time I get my hopes up for another of their releases, I'm left disappointed. I now watch their titles with the hope of seeing something great, but maintain lowered expectations to avoid disappointment – and even by that lowered standard, Gold is still disappointing.
When I watch a based-on-a-true-story drama, I expect a decent amount of it to be fictional. Even the best of real life stories don't unfold in a fashion that fits the cinematic model. Adapting to fit the medium is crucial. A certain amount of give-and-take is a good thing for the sake of the final product. (This is the same spiel I give to those who complain when book adaptations stray from the source material.) Knowing this, the margin of error for a good true story to be told successfully on the big screen is narrow – well, it should be narrow. Movies like Gold have no excuse for being as bland as they are.
From the writers of the first Tomb Raider movie and director Stephen Gaghan, the writer/director of Syriana, comes the story of Kenny Wells, a prospector with an unbelievable story. In 1988, the Reno, Nevada-based prospecting company that his late father built was about to go belly-up. The markets weren't favorite and there were a lot of cooks in the kitchen. Big strikes weren't commonplace anymore. Not wanting to see his dad's company go under, Kenny (Matthew McConaughey) bet it all and played his final card, the result of which wouldn't be seen immediately.
At the time, there was one scientist, Mike Acosta (Edgar Ramirez), who just had the copper strike of the century. An alcohol-induced dream left Kenny feeling prompted to find Mike and sample soil in a remote location that had never before been mined: Indonesia. After liquidating the last of his wealth and finding enough crazy investors to funnel money into one last excursion, the two set out into the dangerous jungle with nothing but faith.
I'll leave what happens from there shrouded because it's truly a tale worthy of being told on the big screen; however, the format in which it's told does absolutely no justice to it. Despite their best efforts, there's nothing attaching you to the story at hand. The characters are so plain and generic that you'll sense every move before they make before they make them and you'll be emotionally detached from every one of them. The character of Kenny's long-time girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) is there to draw an emotional connection, but her cliched story is one we've seen pan out countless times in other films. Each of the leading three actors delivers a top-notch performance, but because they're staged in a mediocre film, they're less than noteworthy.
In the right hands, the story of Kenny Wells could have been translated into a fine film. An interesting film. One so riveting that it could have gotten your blood pumping. But, alas, Gold is nothing more than fool's gold. The exterior sure looks pretty from afar, but the inside is almost entirely void of value.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The Weinstein Company/Anchor Bay have given Gold a combo pack release that includes a Region-A BD-50, a DVD and a Digital HD code that can be redeemed for either an iTunes or an Ultraviolet copy. The discs and redemption slip are housed in a standard two-disc blue Elite keepcase that comes in a shiny, golden, reflective and embossed slipcover. Upon firing up the disc, unskippable logo reels for Anchor Bay and The Weinstein Company play before skippable trailers for Lion and The Founder. The main menu plays clips from the film set to loud samples of the score.
We've gotten to a point with high-definition that any new studio release is pretty much guaranteed to receive at least a four-star video review, right? With that being the norm, I'm baffled as to how the transfer of Gold slipped through the cracks.
Gold may feature a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer, but it suffers from the type of definition issues that you might expect if you're streaming a movie on Netflix and your internet picks up an occasional lag. Many of the scenes are sharp and rich with details, but then we'll stumble into some without any fine features at all. Not only are they void of textures, but the sharpness is replaced with jagged and pixelated edges. A great chunk of the film looks like a small digitally-shot video that's viewed at a size that's slightly too large.
Fittingly so, the palette features an earthy hue and lots of golden accents. Because of the overall muted scheme, those colors that make it into the picture pop with vibrancy. In one instance, a solid blue water purification bag unnaturally glows with over-saturation. Aside from a few murky scenes set in Indonesia, the contrast and black levels are fantastic. On many occasions, both ends of the light-dark spectrum are represented in the same shot – and it looks fantastic.
When Gold isn't flawed, it works on high levels – and that's despite the film being shot with various camera types and lenses. Both digital and 35 mm cameras were used throughout. The type used varies with what's happening in the story. No matter which you're seeing – the 35 mm or the Arri Alexa – the quality is consistent and clean.
While the qualities of the finished film and the Blu-ray's video transfer are sub-par, the audio quality, most definitely, is not. Gold is accompanied with an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that hits all the right notes and only has one slight overbearing problem. The pros definitely outweigh the solitary con.
Let's start with the good. Gold is a very score-heavy film. On many occasions, that can be a nuisance (see Red for an example), but considering how grand and fun the Ocean's Eleven-ish scoring is, it's high volume and activity are quite enjoyable. Even the pops songs of the day – those of Joy Division, Iggy Pop, etc – are mixed with the same quality. It playfully and dynamically pops around the space and generates a much-needed mood. Without it, the film would be entirely lifeless.
Aside from a few instances of imaging planes and cars and the occasional piece of heavy mining equipment, the most prevalent and common effects in the mix are environmental. When set in the jungles of Indonesia, there are swarms of buzzing bugs, chirping birds and howling monkeys ringing out from each channel. Mixing like that is to be expected, but where it defies the odds is how that same style of care is placed into mixing mundane settings, like office spaces. They, too, come to life with ringing phones, printers, chatter and shuffling papers.
For the most part, the dialog is strong too. Clear, consistent and crisp. From time to time, it's accented with a voiceover from McConaughey. The only flaw to be found is that his V.O. can become inaudible beneath the loud score and pop music.
Feature Commentary with Director Stephen Gaghan - The Syriana director may be a little dry in his verbal presentation, but the content that he shares – anecdotes, technical details, thematic elements, etc. – is solid.
Deleted Sequence (HD, 5:18) – When it comes to the relationship between McConaughey's and Howard's characters, within the movie itself, it's rather flat. It gives us little reason to root for Howard to stick around with her absentee career-obsessed boyfriend. Had this deleted sequence remained within the final cut, there would have been a little more for the audience to connect with. It's a shame that it was chopped.
The Origins of Gold (HD, 4:37) – This brief EPK-ish featurette offers a glimpse into how the film came to be. Often times, you don't hear filmmakers talk about the producers' first picks who later dropped out, but in this case, we do. SPOILER ALERT: Michael Mann and Spike Lee were once attached to direct.
The Locations of Gold (HD, 4:20) – Don't be fooled by the plurality of this EPK-ish featurette's title; it focuses on just one of the shoot's locations: Thailand (which doubled for Indonesia).
Matthew McConaughey as Kenny Wells (HD, 3:45) – Watch the filmmakers and cast praise the Oscar-winning actor.
There are enough good movies and television series out there that there's really no time to waste on the mediocre. And by "mediocre," I'm referring to Gold. Although the story it tells is worthy of being told cinematically, the film hinges on so many predictable cliches, even Matthew McConaughey, Edgar Ramirez and Bryce Dallas Howard can't add any value to it. And, although it comes with a fantastic lossless audio mix, the picture quality is like something you would have seen in a Blu-ray transfer from 10 years ago. Aside from a decent commentary track and a sequence that never should have been deleted from the final cut, the majority of the special features are limited to EPK-ish promotional videos. If you're considering checking out Gold for yourself, I recommend skipping and spending your time on something that's been sitting on your shelf or in your Netflix queue.