Gold: an intriguing look at the Bre-X scandal of the 1990s

Still from Gold
Matthew McConaughey turns in a gonzo performance

The Bre-X scandal rocked the mining world in the mid 1990s. A small Canadian firm claimed to have discovered a massive gold deposit in Indonesia, sending its shares rocketing – at the peak, Bre-X was worth over $6bn. But the discovery was a fraud: Bre-X’s geologist had been tampering with (“salting”) samples by adding gold dust. As the fraud unravelled, the geologist apparently committed suicide by jumping from a helicopter over the jungle, the company collapsed and the chief executive – who professed his innocence – died in mysterious circumstances.

Gold is a fictionalised version of this sorry tale. Hard luck and an economic downturn destroy the family business of prospector Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey). After a strange dream, Wells pawns his remaining jewellery in order to meet up with an old friend, Miguel Acosta (Édgar Ramírez), who believes there is a huge gold deposit in a volcanic region of Indonesia.

Initially, they find nothing and Wells nearly dies from malaria, but recovers to be told that they struck gold. His fortunes are transformed, he’s courted by Wall Street bankers. But the money goes to his head, destroying his relationship with his girlfriend, Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard), while his firms starts to face multiple challenges from rivals.

Director Stephen Gaghan and screenwriters Patrick Massett and John Zinman do a solid job of keeping the audience entertained without dumbing down the business aspects too much. The cinematography, period detail and the exotic locations do a fine job of putting the viewer alongside Wells as he struggles to move from has-been to contender.

McConaughey gives a compelling performance as a hyperactive, chain-smoking protagonist who’s determined to have the success his father failed to achieve, even when it might have been easier to sit back and cash in on his apparent good fortune. Indeed, the big criticism that can be levelled against Gold is that Wells is too sympathetic. Even the moments of hubris and excess that precede his downfall are brief and tame. A twist at the end falls flat. But despite some unfavourable reviews, this is an intriguing film that’s worth seeing.

What the press said

Reviews have been mixed. “The film has neither the steel and wit necessary for satire, nor the insight for an engaging human drama in the style of something like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” says The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw. “Gold is simply a dull chore steeped in strike-it-rich clichés, a flaccid tale of capitalist cat-and-mouse that shirks the opportunity to say anything remotely of interest,” says Patrick Smith in The Daily Telegraph.

“Proudly sporting a pot belly, snaggled teeth, and receding comb-over, McConaughey turns in a gonzo performance,” says Peter Debruge in Variety. But “some will surely label it a disaster over the tonal risks it takes”.

Directed by Stephen Gaghan, starring Matthew McConaughey. On general release across the UK