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Monday , November 30 2020

McConaissance hits limits in ‘Gold’ – Baldwin ‘unfiltered’ Oscar-nominated documentary

This image released by The Weinstein Company shows Matthew McConaughey (left), and Edgar Ramirez in a scene from ‘Gold’. (AP)
The Reformation toppled the Renaissance but the decline of the McConaissance is harder to delineate.

It was probably inevitable that Matthew McConaughey’s bold rebirth — that terrific run of “True Detective”, “Magic Mike,”, “The Wolf of Wall Street”, “Interstellar”, “Mud” and “Dallas Buyers Club” — would dissipate. Could it have been those Lincoln ads that signaled the end to his grand second act?

In any case, the woefully misguided “Gold,” which follows the almost as equally disappointing “Sea of Trees” and “Free State of Jones,” confirms that the McConaissance, wonderful as it was, is over. It’s not for lack of effort. In those films and “Gold,” McConaughey has maintained a torrid commitment to his roles. But the quality of the material isn’t holding up.

“Gold,” directed by Stephen Gaghan (“Syriana”), is a fictionalized account of the notorious Bre-X Minerals swindle of the 1990s in which a Borneo prospector named Michael de Guzman falsified core samples of an Indonesian site’s richness in gold. The fraud eventually came crashing down, but not before his apparently historic discovery made Bre-X a $6 billion company and the toast of Wall Street and the mining industry.

Gaghan and co-writers Patrick Massett and John Zinman have extrapolated the tale and, in doing so, distorted it beyond both recognition and plausibility. The filmmakers may have had in mind a stylized romp like “The Wolf of Wall Street”: a movie about fraud that is its own kind of fraud, taking viewers along for a ride. But, unmoored from reality, “Gold” plays like a cheap knockoff version of Martin Scorsese’s film and others (“The Big Short”, “American Hustle”) that have plundered more deeply and more specifically into the fool’s gold of get-rich-quick America.

Bre-X founder and penny stock trader David Walsh has been turned into Kenny Wells (McConaughey), a mining executive desperate to strike it rich with his inherited company. The Calgary-based Bre-X has been turned into Washoe Mining and transplanted to Reno. Tall tales about the American Dream, after all, don’t work so well in Canada.


De Guzman has been made into Michael Acosta, a confident mineral expert played by an Edgar Ramirez who looks unsure of both his character and the film he finds himself in. (Considering the silly twist that befalls him late in the movie, Ramirez has good reason to feel on shaky ground.)

McConaughey, however, is not one to ever look lost. He pours himself into Wells, a good-natured, potbellied huckster with a receding hairline. He’s not a bad guy, though, and his idealism, his wide-eyed love for mining gold makes him both likable and uninteresting. He’s an old-school entrepreneur increasingly out of his depth in a corporate world he doesn’t understand. He’s a dreamer and a sucker — the hoax’s mark not its perpetuator. It’s a fine protagonist that would fit another film, but not one with him as the central figure in a billion-dollar scandal of his own making.

The intense charisma of McConaughey is nearly enough to keep “Gold” from sinking. But the film keeps restyling itself in progressively absurd shifts. Sometimes it’s a buddy film about Wells and Acosta. Other times it decides Wells’ previously forgotten wife (Bryce Dallas Howard) is crucial, after all, to the story, only to dispense with her again.

McConaughey, in one of his lesser periods, already made a film called “Fool’s Gold,” a misbegotten romantic comedy with Kate Hudson. He has since left those days behind him, but “Gold” proves that for even the reborn McConaughey, there are limits. So instead of seeing “Gold,” go back and watch his cocaine-sniffing, chest-thumping scene in “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Now that was pure 24-karat stuff.

“Gold,” a Weinstein Co. release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “language throughout and some sexuality/nudity.” Running time: 121 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.

Raoul Peck’s Oscar-nominated documentary “I Am Not Your Negro” presents the raw, “unfiltered” voice of US civil rights stalwart James Baldwin through his own words, the Haitian filmmaker says.

“He invented a language of incredible force,” Peck told AFP at his Paris office, calling the novelist, essayist and poet the literary “father of everyone” who influenced authors from Beat Generation idol Allen Ginsberg to Nobel literature laureate Toni Morrison.

“The title is obviously a provocation,” said Peck, president of La Femis, France’s most prestigious film school.

He summed up the thinking of Baldwin, who was black and gay, by saying: “You can’t park me in the ghettos and lynch me without becoming monsters.”

Baldwin escaped American racism and homophobia in 1948, taking refuge in Paris for more than a decade before returning home to lead a nationwide campaign against segregation.

It was in Paris that the Harlem-born Baldwin wrote his semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story “Go Tell It on the Mountain”.

Three years later he authored the frank, homoerotic “Giovanni’s Room”, one of the first acclaimed literary works to explore the gay experience.

Back in the United States, Baldwin became friends with African American civil rights icons Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Medgar Evers — all three assassinated before they reached their 40th birthday, as Peck notes.

In 1963, Baldwin’s deeply personal exploration of racial injustice in “The Fire Next Time” fanned the flames of the American civil rights movement as it was exploding in the segregated South.

Peck could not bear the idea of Baldwin falling into oblivion, that history would inherit his ideas “without quoting him”.

The filmmaker combed through Baldwin’s novels and correspondence on the way to creating what he called a “confrontation” between the man and today’s world.

Black and white footage from scenes of more recent racial strife such as Ferguson, Missouri — which saw a wave of protests after the police shooting of an unarmed African-American man — remind viewers of the subject’s continuing relevance.

The work, which Peck said is “high-stakes artistically and politically”, aims to challenge the racism of “(US President Donald) Trump and all those like him”.

But he said Baldwin’s discourse is too politically incorrect for American television, predicting that his documentary would never reach the small screen.

Actor Samuel L. Jackson, whose breakthrough role was as a crack addict in Spike Lee’s “Jungle Fever” (1991), voices Baldwin in the US version.

By Jake Coyle

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