Gold (2016)


They may be in the middle of nowhere but at least they have a good pot of coffee.

They may be in the middle of nowhere but at least they have a good pot of coffee.

(2016) Adventure (Dimension) Matthew McConaughey, Edgar Ramirez, Bryce Dallas Howard, Corey Stoll, Toby Kebbell, Bill Camp, Joshua Harto, Timothy Simons, Craig T. Nelson, Stacy Keach, Macon Blair, Adam LaFevre, Bruce Greenwood, Rachael Taylor, Frank Wood, Michael Landes, Bhavesh Patel, Vic Browder, Dylan Kenin, Stafford Douglas, Kristen Rakes. Directed by Stephen Gaghan

 

A wise man once wrote that “all that glitters is not gold” but gold does glitter and its pull on some men is irresistible. It is the lure of riches and fame but also of conquering the odds. Not many who go looking for gold actually find it.
Kenny Wells (McConaughey) is once such. His company – the Washoe Mining Company that he inherited from his respected and revered dad (Nelson) and which had been founded nearly 80 years earlier by his granddad – is foundering, a once-thriving organization doing business out of a bar and down to a few loyal employees who hadn’t been paid in months. The economic downturn of the 80s has hit Washoe and Kenny hard. As it turns out, Kenny is a bit of a carnival barker, trying to get funds from disinterested local bankers to take one last stab at the dream. While his girlfriend Kay (Howard) remains loyal and believes in him, things look pretty bleak for Kenny Wells.

Then he discovers the largely discredited theories of Michael Acosta (Ramirez) who had discovered a sizable copper deposit years earlier. A rock star among geologists at one time, Acosta is also on a downward spiral. However, Acosta believes there is a major gold deposit in one of the most remote areas of Indonesia.

At first, things go badly. Kenny has sunk every last dime he has and what little he is able to borrow into the venture. To make matters worse, he’s contracted malaria and nearly dies. Acosta nurses him back to health and even as the miners (who also haven’t been paid) have left in droves, the patience pays off as gold is discovered and not just a little bit – billions of dollars worth. Kenny and Michael have just hit the big time and for Kay, her ship has just come in.

Immediately as word spreads of the small company’s find spreads, Wall Street sharks begin to circle in particular in the form of Brian Woolf (Stoll) who is all smiles and white teeth but means to wring every penny out of Washoe that he can. It looks like easy pickings, too – Kenny’s drinking, always a problem for him, has reached massive proportions. He also smokes like a fiend and is paunchy and sometimes he’s not all together mentally speaking, or at least so it appears.

But Kenny proves to be cannier than people give him credit for. The small time operator has a few tricks up his sleeve as he fights to protect what he worked so hard to obtain. And for awhile, it looks like he might succeed until a bombshell drops that threatens all he has earned – and then some.

This is loosely based – VERY loosely – on the Bre-X mining scandal of the 1990s. For one thing, that took place in Canada rather than in Nevada and led to some major reforms on the Canadian stock exchange as well as in mining practices. The investigation also overwhelmed the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who simply didn’t have the resources to investigate the scale of corruption that took place so there were never any charges filed.

Otherwise most of the salient facts that are shown here jive with what happened in Canada back in the 1990s. Some of the characters here were based on people who were involved in the real case (primarily Wells and Acosta). Otherwise, this is mainly a yarn about greed and dreams.

McConaughey went the “de-glamorize” route, wearing a set of crooked false teeth, gaining 45 pounds on a cheeseburger diet to get quite a bit of a paunch and wearing a hair piece with a bald spot and thinning locks. McConaughey, who is a very handsome man, doesn’t look that way here. In the past, I’ve praised Hollywood actors for going this route for the sake of their art but it’s becoming a much more prevalent event these days so I’ll refrain from a whole lot of compliments; let’s just say that the acting performance that McConaughey delivers is as good as anything he’s done regardless of the sideshow about how he looks here. He’s come a long way since the laidback Texas surfer dude he seemed to always be playing.

The movie runs two full hours and to be honest I’m not sure it needed to. Once the gold is discovered it begins to drag a little bit as the corporate setup takes most of the focus and that portion of the film isn’t nearly as interesting. The ending is definitely Hollywood too – I would have liked it to have been less heart-warming, particularly after everything the principles did to each other. It doesn’t seem terribly realistic to me.

Like many other films that Weinstein distributes, this bounced around the release schedule for a time before settling on a Christmas release in New York and Los Angeles and expanding nationwide in January. I’m frankly mystified that they’d open this up in the holiday season at all; there was never any real chance of Oscar attention here and to be honest this feels a little bit more suited to the less competitive January release schedule. Still, it is competently done and reasonably entertaining which given what dogs we usually get in January is saying something.

REASONS TO GO: McConaughey does a stellar job here despite all the make-up and hair tomfoolery..
REASONS TO STAY: Overall, the film feels long and seems to lose steam in the middle.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of sexuality, some nudity and a fair amount of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is Gaghan’s first film in eleven years, his last being Syriana.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/24/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 41% positive reviews. Metacritic: 49/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Fool’s Gold
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Live By Night

Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer


Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer

Some press conferences just don't go all that well.

(2010) Documentary (Magnolia) Eliot Spitzer, Joe Bruno, Roger Stone, Hank Greenberg, Ken Langone, Wrenn Schmidt, Elizabeth Monrad, Robert Graham, Zana Brezdek, Kristian Stiles, Jimmy Siegel, Fred Dicker, John Whitehead, Scott Horton, Darren Dopp, Mike Balboni. Directed by Alex Gibney

 

Eliot Spitzer may wind up being a cautionary tale for 21st century politicians. He was once one of the most dynamic leaders in the country, the Sheriff of Wall Street, a man who took on crooked CEOs and won. He had gone from New York’s Attorney General to New York’s Governor and some said he might have a shot at being the first Jewish President after Obama’s presidency came to an end.

Then it all came crashing down. A juicy sex scandal – apparently the Governor had been seeing some very high-priced call girls. There were receipts, accusations and an incriminating document that listed Spitzer as “Client 9.” The interesting thing is that clients one through eight received little investigation and almost no attention. It was only Client 9 who had the microscope turned on him.

It must be remembered that Spitzer made a lot of powerful enemies, including AIG chairman Hank Greenberg who blamed Spitzer for his company’s collapse, New York State Representative Joe Bruno, Republican public relations specialist (and character assassin) Roger Stone and former NYSE director Ken Langone, to name a few. That his spectacular downfall followed his rise to power so precipitously makes one wonder if it was engineered. Certainly there are some compelling arguments in that direction, although Spitzer himself tends to downplay that aspect.

In fact, Spitzer’s interview is the highlight of the movie. He comes off as remarkably self-knowing, understanding that it was his own hubris that brought him down, his own mistaken idea that he was untouchable. He seems to be completely accountable for his actions, or at least projects that image. It’s easy to see how the charismatic Spitzer became so popular in the Empire State.

That doesn’t mean his opponents are any less compelling interviews, particularly Bruno (who is an old-school politician and quite entertaining in his own way) and Langone who’s like a pit bull and seems to have a special dislike for Spitzer.

Other reviewers have compared this to a Greek tragedy and indeed it is; it is the story of Icarus (as Spitzer himself remarks) who created wings made out of feathers and wax; when he flew too close to the sun, the wax melted, the feathers fell out and Icarus tumble screaming from the skies.

WHY RENT THIS: Spitzer is a fascinating character and the story is compelling. Very balanced in presenting differing viewpoints. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: An awful lot of talking head footage, little of which measures up to Spitzer’s own interview.

FAMILY VALUES: The film covers some fairly sexy stuff and there is some brief nudity. There’s also a fair amount of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Spitzer has since gone on to attempt a broadcasting career with CNN but both of his shows (“Parker Spitzer” and “In the Arena” were cancelled).

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $192,870 on an unreported production budget; it might have broken even but only just and it’s more likely it lost a bunch of money.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Contraband