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matthew mcconaughey's prospector is no gordon gecko

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matthew mcconaughey's prospector is no gordon gecko

ellen uses 'finding dory' to bash trump

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trailer: gold

trailer: gold

from director stephen gaghan and starring matthew mcconaughey, bryce dallas howard and edgar ramirez comes an incredible true story of one man’s dream to find gold.

ellen uses 'finding dory' to bash trump

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01:59
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ellen uses 'finding dory' to bash trump

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trailer: newton's law

trailer: newton's law

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oprah joins 60 minutes

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ben affleck dumps directing role

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the rise of millie bobby brown

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bleach festival: highlights reel

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trailer: gold

from director stephen gaghan and starring matthew mcconaughey, bryce dallas howard and edgar ramirez comes an incredible true story of one man’s dream to find gold.

★★★
(m) 121 minutes

matthew mcconaughey, as kenny wells, looks for investors by phone in a las vegas bar. there's nothing but grit to cling ...
matthew mcconaughey, as kenny wells, looks for investors by phone in a las vegas bar. there's nothing but grit to cling to in the wreckage of wells' life. p o: lewis jacobs

if you're going to make a film about the dark side of the american dream, it helps if the man you are basing it on isn't canadian. in gold, matthew mcconaughey, the texan beef biscuit, plays kenny wells, a chain-smoking, beer-bellied las vegas gold prospector who strikes it rich in indonesia – only to see it all leach away in corruption, fraud and hysteria.

this might sound familiar. in 1995, bre-x minerals of calgary reported the gold strike of the decade in borneo. the stock reached $c286.50 before the slurry hit the fan. billions of dollars in stockholder value disappeared. the main geologist jumped out of a helicopter over the jungle, another was charged with insider trading, and the founder of the company david walsh retired to the bahamas, protesting he knew nothing of the scheme. he died there in 1998.

the producers of gold denied the film was based on walsh's story, but not the star. mcconaughey told fairfax media the script still had the real names in it when he read it. various directors e and went before stephen gaghan (writer of traffic, director of syriana) settled in to mould it to mcconaughey's vision.

they moved the story back to the end of the '80s to focus on the unbridled greed of american capitalism at that time; walsh be e wells and based in vegas; they added a fictional friend (played with a country twang by bryce dallas howard). a canadian might say the masters of ine stole another great canuck story, but fear of lawsuits probably drove most of this.

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as a story of greed, it has moments, but they're undermined by script problems. one is that mcconaughey loves wells the dreamer, the man who won't give up and isn't really motivated by greed so much as the desire for that one big strike. so the greed displaces to other characters, especially indonesian ones with names ending in suharto.

it's true that two (not one) of the former president's children were involved in bre-x, but i was surprised at how directly the film represents, or misrepresents, their involvement, depending on which account you read. i'm guessing the film may not have a big release in indonesia, but who knows?

mcconaughey put on 20 kilograms to play wells and he makes him remarkably unattractive. there is not one scene when he isn't smoking, drinking or both, often without a shirt, wisps of sparse hair plastered to his scalp by tropical torrents or vegas sweat.

the vanity is all internal here. mcconaughey loves the fact kenny wells won't quit. it's his version of a beautiful loser from the arse-end of american business.

none of the polish of jordan belfort or gordon gecko – just mindless optimism and faith. he has more in common with del griffith (the john candy character in trains, plains and automobiles) than daniel plainview (of there will be blood).

in the jungle of kalimantan with his geologist partner michael acosta (a smooth performance by edgar ramirez), wells goes down with malaria as the money runs out and the dayak workers leave.

back in vegas, his daddy's plush offices long gone, wells and his last few believers work out of a bar looking for investors by phone, dogged and day-long. mcconaughey grew up around these types of men, as the son of a texas oil man.

and they're the most interesting part of the film, although we barely get to know them. there's room only for one star, even if he plays a man you'd run away from in a bar.

stephen gaghan does his best with both hands tied. it's a fascinating story – at least those bits based in reality.

mcconaughey seems to be shooting for another transformative role like the one that brought him an oscar in dallas buyers club. this is not that. wells' story is more tawdry than transforming. there's nothing but grit to cling to in the wreckage of his life, and that is not enough.