Without doubt, Matthew McConaughey is one of Hollywood’s most attractive leading men and this may be why, rather than trade on his good looks, the actor prefers his talent to shine through and selects his roles carefully. In Free State of Jones (2016) he is almost unrecognisable as a deserting confederate soldier while in Dallas Buyers Club (2013) he appeared emaciated and gaunt as an AIDS patient – for which he received the Best Actor Oscar in 2014. Few actors receive rave reviews for a brief 10 minute appearance in a movie, which he did for his cameo as Mark Hanna opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street (2013). This one scene demonstrates McConaughey’s skill as an actor and his ability to own the moment.
This is an actor almost at the peak of his professional ability. I say ‘almost’ only in the hope, and belief, that McConaughey still has more to offer. As prospector Kenny Wells the actor once again disguises his good looks. Bald, overweight, bear-bellied and chain-smoking Wells could easily epitomise white-trash America. What stands him apart is his work ethic and belief in fortune that he will one day strike gold. Enter good-looking, charismatic geologist Michael Acosta whom Wells teams up with in a joint search for fortune in the jungles of Indonesia. The two men hit it big and then have to manoeuvre the sharks of Wall Street and the Indonesian government who want a cut of the action. This convoluted thriller, based on actual events, has more twists and turns than a faulty drill bit.
Dramatising complex business negotiations isn’t easy and much of these negotiations are whispered asides that made me feel I was missing important information. Wells’ unconventional approach to business dealings takes him literally into the lion’s den – well in this case a tiger! McConaughey plays this scene with great comic timing and an innate sense of manic insanity.
Visually director of photography Robert Elswit captures the intense beauty of the lush, green expanse of the Indonesian jungle, contrasting the wide-open vistas with the dull, enclosed interiors where Wells’ conducts business meetings.
Director Gaghan maintains a slow and steady pace that at times veers off-track but is saved by McConaughey’s engaged and energetic presence. The film is very loosely based on true life events and it seems fairly implausible that Wells’ motivating factor is a drunken dream in which he sees the location of the gold deposits. The chemistry between leads McConaughey and Ramírez fails to engage, though this could well be due to Ramírez’ ambition. While writer/director Gaghan provides plenty of twists and turns the eventual outcome is unsurprising and slightly disappointing. McConaughey is the nugget of gold in this decent drama.