Rated PG-13. Running Time: 2 hours 1 min.
Our contents Ratings: Violence 2; Language 6; Sex6/Nudity 2.
Our star rating (1-5) 4
For where your treasure is,
there your heart will be also.
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil,
and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith
and pierced themselves with many pains.
1 Timothy 6:10
Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey) has inherited his prospector grandfather and father’s love of searching for treasured beneath the ground, as we see in an opening scene. In 1981 he is working in his father’s Reno, Nevada Washoe Mining office using his girlfriend Kay’s (Bryce Dallas Howard) purse as the ground from which such treasure as copper is mined. Out comes a copper item, and then sneaking in a gold watch, he pulls it out and presents it to her. She will become the under-appreciated treasure of his life, though his heart will not be with her later in the film.
Six years go by. Kenny’s father has died, the 1980’s recession has hit their firm so hard that Kenny had to give up the firm’s plush offices and operate out of the bar where Kay now works. Kenny looks like a has-been, sloppily dressed and his disheveled hair-line now receding, and his pot belly making him look pregnant. Most of his former employees also make phone calls from phones in the bar about new mining ventures. No one wants to join in, not even prosperous Clive Colson, the man whom his father once set up in the business. He will not even meet with Kenny, sending two assistants instead.
Kenny has dreams of Indonesia, and then remembers having met geologist Mike Acosta (Édgar Ramírez) years before. His “ring of fire” theory has made the geologist well-known among miners. He believes that tectonic plates in the Pacific Rim rubbing up against each other have created a wealth of minerals, including gold. Telling Kay he will be back in a week or more, Kenny snatches some valuables, including her gold watch, and pawns them so he can fly to Jakarta and meet with Mike. The latter is less than impressed at first by Kenny’s pitch to join forces, but, being desperate himself because he has not struck it rich after years of searching, agrees. Kenny gets on the phone to order his associates to make a new round of pleas to potential investors. This time because of Mike they are successful, though the over a quarter million dollars they raise will only begin to finance the project.
Mike thinks he knows the exact spot up Borneo’s the Busang River to begin digging. The sight of villagers panning gold all along its banks is reassuring as their equipment-laden boat chugs along. The steamy jungle is cleared around the area, and the drilling starts. Day after day they find nothing. Kenny spends weeks sick in bed with malaria. Their native laborers walk off the job when Kenny’s money runs out. Then comes the day when Mike announces that the assayer’s report is positive. They have struck gold. Kenny, clad in his underwear because he is only partially recovered dances with Mike in the mud. They might have the biggest gold strike in the 20th century!
If in Borneo the film reminds one of Treasure of the Sierra Madre, back home, the film morphs into Wall Street. Everyone wants in on the strike, some Wall Street sharks waving a huge pile of money before Kenny in a bid for control of his company. He is disdainful of it because it would reduce him to minority ownership. He also turns down an international gold business owner. Kay has come with him to their posh suite at the Waldorf Astoria, but her initial enthusiasm for their new life of luxury soon fades. Everyone is so insincere, as she learns when she overhears two big shots mocking Kenny as a fool. Kenny allows a woman executive to flirt with him, and so when he will not listen to Kay, she packs up and leaves for Nevada.
I also should mention that the corrupt Indonesian President Sukarno sends his soldiers to take over the mine. Suddenly all of Kenny’s friends have desert him. How he schemes his way back into ownership sounds too far out to believe that the film “is inspired by actual event”—it involves the family black sheep son of Sukarno and the petting of a Bengal tiger that you probably have seen in the film’s trailer. Kenny is up again, and then down again when an independent assayer discovers that the strike is a fraud—and thus the question of why Mike leaves the banquet hall before his friend finishes his speech accepting the miners’ association’s annual award of The Golden Pick Ax. Down and broke again, Kenny must now deal with the FBF investigators and the wrath of his disappointed colleagues, most of whom had invested their life savings in his company.
Director Stephen Gaghan keeps things moving along, using voice-overs to help us understand the film’s jumping back and forth in time and location. Matthew McConaughey must have had a ball as the gregarious, loud mouthed prospector rising and falling two times over in the business world. The upbeat ending of the film feels a bit strained, though perhaps it plays to the desire of the audience. The plot and characters (some are a combination of real life persons) come from Canada’s Bre-X mining scandal in the 1990s, which had a very different ending from that of the film’s. To compare film with history, go the Wikipedia article at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bre-X. We might be glad for Kenny, but it certainly leaves some ethical issues up in the air. I wonder what his next step will be after the last scene fades to the credits.
This review with a set of questions will be in the Feb. 2017 issue of VP.