The names have been changed, but many of the events portrayed in this “get rich quick” story of gold prospecting in the 1980s really happened. Don’t go Googling it, though, because at least half of the enjoyment audiences are going to get out of it will be due to the surprising plot turns. Most of the rest of that enjoyment comes courtesy of Matthew McConaughey, once again latching onto a role and just eating up the part.
He plays Kenny Wells (not the real guy’s name), whose mind has always been set on finding a gold mine, and not necessarily for the money that would come his way. He just wants to be able to say that he struck some of that magical mineral. At the film’s start, in 1981, he’s toiling away in the engineering and production side of his father’s mining company. They both know the business, and business is pretty good.
But dad dies, the story jumps ahead 7 years, and Kenny, though now running the place, has been reduced to looking for underwriters to fund mining projects on sketchy properties, and not doing too well at it. He’s lost his home, he’s drinking too much, his girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) is tiring of him, yet he still has that big dream.
Then he finds out about legendary mining man Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez), renowned for a huge copper score a few years earlier, who is now bragging that he’s going to find gold in Indonesia, which is where, after pawning enough for a plane ticket, Kenny heads to meet him. They prove to be two guys who are sure of themselves.
Mike: “There’s no right or wrong in this business, only hits and misses. There’s gold here.”
Kenny: “You tell me where you want to dig, and I’ll make sure you get the money.”
It’s the beginning of a partnership and a friendship between two very different kinds of men. Kenny is an excitable dreamer, Mike is smarter and more patient. It’s in these scenes, soon after Kenny’s arrival in Indonesia, that McConaughey, despite a fine cast around him, steals the film away. He does it with the flourish of a hand, the inhalation of a cigarette, by pleading to workers to stay on when there are cash problems, by changing his manner from desperate to exhausted to jubilant.
It turns out there’s plenty to be jubilant about because Mike finds his gold mine, and suddenly those investors back in the States, who wouldn’t give Kenny the time of day when he was scrambling for their dollars, want to be part of what’s going on.
The film takes on an air of exhilaration, with director Stephen Gaghan (“Syriana”) making use of busy split screens at the mining site, a percussive soundtrack and, stateside, visuals of contracts pouring in and office space being filled.
But all of this energy comes to a halt when the film suddenly shifts to Kenny, looking uncomfortable, and being questioned and recorded by some serious-looking men in dark suits. Where are we? Who are these guys? What’s going on?
It’s all answered, but before that happens, there are those plot turns to deal with. They involve bigger mining companies trying to buy out Kenny’s now successful small one; some political intrigue courtesy of the greedy president of Indonesia; the mining industry’s honoring of Kenny (and a great speech McConaughey delivers that’s titled “What Is a Prospector?” but could easily be called “What Is an Actor?”); some accusations of fraud; and the mysterious disappearance of one of the two principle characters.
It’s 1988. Explanations of those guys in the suits are delivered. The film comes to a completely satisfactory conclusion, although it seems the twists will never stop. And there, during the end credits, performing the title song, is Iggy Pop, improbably sounding exactly like Leonard Cohen.
Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now.