By: Kevin Jordan
Stranger than fiction.
The first thing you are going to do after watching Gold is look up the actual story the film is based on. Actually, the real first thing you are going to do after watching Gold is find a Lincoln commercial so as to try to get the image of fat, comb-over, snaggletooth Matthew McConaughey out of your head. I mean – look at that poster….yech. Let me help…
Nope, that’s Jim Carey making fun of McConaughey on SNL.
No, that’s a child making fun of McConaughey.
There we go. Ahhhh.
Now that that’s over, you can focus on reading about Bre-X, the company this movie is based on. If you have no idea what Bre-X is, do not look them up before watching Gold or you will SPOIL the movie for yourself. Also, do not read the rest of this review because, obviously, I’m going to talk about it.
(Seriously – SPOILER ALERT.)
Once you have seen this movie and read about the Bre-X mining scandal, you’re going to wonder the same thing as everyone else – why did they change so much of the story? The real story is bonkers enough. In the mid-1990’s, a Filipino geologist working for Bre-X minerals convinced another geologist and an investor that he had discovered gold in Indonesia. Bre-X’s stock skyrocketed from pennies to nearly $300 per share over the course of two and a half years. As it turns out, the Filipino was ‘salting’ the core samples from the site with shavings from his wedding ring, then with river-panned gold he bought from the locals. The Indonesian government took over the site after the three men sold a bunch of their stock and allowed another company to continue mining. After finding zero gold, the Filipino supposedly committed suicide by jumping out of a helicopter. The stock became worthless, the investor denied everything and died two years later, and the second geologist was acquitted of crimes and moved to the Cayman Islands. I mean, come on – that script writes itself. The only problem is how to make McConaughey look like a Filipino.
This being Hollywood, they changed things both big and small. To start with, the second geologist and the investor were mashed together to create Kenny Wells (McConaughey), an American miner who managed to wreck his father’s prospecting company to the point where he was running the remains of the business out of his waitress-girlfriend Kay’s (Bryce Dallas Howard) bar. That forty pounds makes sense now, doesn’t it?
In a drunken fever dream, he sees a jungle and knows he will find gold there. The next day, he remembers stories of a geologist named Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez) who theorized the location of gold in Indonesia. Acosta is what the writers of the film created out of the Filipino geologist. Wells flies out to see Acosta and convinces Acosta to partner with him on the dig. After weeks of digging, they find nothing and Wells catches Malaria. Upon Wells’ recovery, Acosta informs him that they’ve found gold to the tune of 1/8th ounce per ton of rock. Yeah…they struck it rich! I think. Wait, is that a lot? It doesn’t sound like a lot. Or did I just misunderstand the number? No matter, they struck it rich!!
This is what you look like when you have have gold fever and jungle fever at the same time.
The rest of the film bears very little resemblance to actual events, but a whole lot of resemblance to a combination of Two for the Money and The Wolf of Wall Street. Rise to the top, lavish spending, helicopter sex, etc. followed by the fall from grace. The movie tries to make Wells somewhat sympathetic by making him care more about being recognized as a great miner than money. Potato, pot-ah-to, right? This leads him to declining multiple lucrative offers for the mine and you can guess where he ends up. The film also tries to make something out of his relationship with Kay, though it falls completely flat during the film and Howard is given very little to do outside of a breakup scene that comes out of nowhere. Finally, they try to play up his loyalty to Acosta, and that turns out to be the one thing that makes you root for him just a little bit. To be fair, the film keeps the scandal part – Acosta salting the samples, cashing out his stocks, and possibly dying in a helicopter suicide jump (but not from the sex helicopter).
In addition to adding the girlfriend and changing the characters, the film is set back in 1988 and the timespan is shortened to about six months for no reason. They also toss in two different investment companies vying for Wells’ to partner them in, but really in order to give screen time to Stacy Keach and Corey Stoll (and Stoll was delightfully on target as a sleazy Wall Street investor), but they at least serve the purpose of moving Wells through his rise and fall. Perhaps the weirdest creative choice is Bruce Greenwood doing a bizarre accent while playing a gold magnate and forced to look at naked, fat McConaughey when they first meet. I get what the writers were going for there – contrasting a fool with a viper – but Greenwood can’t unsee that. That’s just mean.
I get older, but they stay the same age.
(Note: Rachael Taylor is also naked in that scene, so it’s not all bad for Greenwood. Probably still not worth it though.)
Having said all that, I don’t really mind that they changed so much from the real story, but I do wish they hadn’t thrown in the unnecessary girlfriend subplot. It drags the movie down and doesn’t change your opinion that Wells is mostly a bad businessman and comes off like a used car salesman. But the thing I mind the most is that the film tells you almost from the beginning that everything is going to go south for Wells. Early on, we see a panning shot of a microphone and hear Wells talking to someone who is obviously questioning him. As soon as you see that microphone, you spend the rest of the film knowing Wells is going to fail, you’re just not sure how. Unless, of course, you ignored me and read up on Bre-X prior to watching the film. I actually went into this movie thinking it was going to be a story about a man who defied the odds and ended up proving everyone wrong. I was looking forward to some crazy hijinks and close calls, but an inevitable win in the end. Thanks a lot, writers – the one time I don’t go into a movie pessimistically and you ruined it for me.
Still – I did find myself enjoying the movie quite a bit. McConaughey brings his A-game, you can never get enough Stoll, and it’s much better than the typical January fare we’re used to seeing. And, even though I knew things were going to end badly, I never suspected the salting scandal, which was a genuine surprise. I just thought the fool was going to get taken by Wall Street sharks, not his friend. Does Hollywood deserved to get smacked around a little for messing with this nutty, true story? Sure. But that doesn’t mean it still wasn’t worth a pat on the back.
Rating: Ask for two dollars back and never look at the Gold movie poster again.
(Source note: Here’s the article I read detailing the Bre-X scandal.)
By: Kevin Jordan
Lies, damned lies, and statistics.
If the current Rotten Tomatoes score (78%) holds for M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film, Split, it will be the highest score he has received for any movie not named The Sixth Sense (85%). Unlike his previous film, The Visit (64%), Split has mostly earned that score. It’s definitely better than every Shyamalan film since at least Unbreakable and I’m not saying that sarcastically. One audience member wondered if it was really the second best or actually the second least-worst. Either way, you won’t leave the theater wishing you had a voodoo doll of Shyamalan along with a hammer.
(Side note: Shyamalan directed, wrote, produced, and even cameoed in this film.)
There are several things that you need to know about this movie, including that some critics are lying to you. For starters, any talk about Shyamalan’s comeback is wildly premature. Despite The Visit’s favorable score, that movie was terrible on multiple levels, many of which were technical and writing-based. Thankfully, Split does not suffer from many of those , and I can’t help but wonder if it’s because Shyamalan got a talking-to. Don’t get me wrong, there are still issues that he needs to work on. For one example, the title cards in the opening credits are enormous white letters on flat black. Who does that? I had to look away from the screen to avoid burning my retinas.
Another bizarre thing I’ve seen is critics crediting the lead actor, James McAvoy, with portraying 23 different personalities. Here’s the opening line of Peter Travers’ (Rolling Stone) review:
“James McAvoy acts the hell out of 23 roles in Split…”
James McAvoy does no such thing. Throughout the entire movie, McAvoy predominantly plays four roles and cameos another five. If you don’t already know about this film, McAvoy plays a man suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). In other words, he has 23 different personalities, and the aforementioned “roles” are some of those personalities. The only reason we know there are twenty-three is because his therapist, Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley), tells us and, later in the film, we see a computer screen with file folders numbered with each personality. Travers is either lying to his readers or he is terrible at math. My point is that I won’t lie to you. I swear.
(If there’s one thing I’m brutally honest about, it’s SPOILERS. There will be some.)
Now that I’ve told you about the main character, who’s legal name is Kevin Crumb….wait – we can’t just let that go. That’s a pretty on-the-nose character name you normally only find in comic books. In this case, Crumb because he’s only a fraction of the whole and he’s basically been discarded by the other personalities. *SIGH* Anyway, Kevin has abducted three high school girls (Casey, Claire, and Marcia) from a mall parking lot in broad daylight and nobody noticed. You have to excuse how badly this scene was directed, particularly the reactions of these girls to a strange man sitting in the driver’s seat, which is far too calm and bitchy. Anyway, the girls wake up later in a bunker-ish room and are confronted by Dennis, one of Kevin’s personalities. Dennis selects one of the girls, Marcia (Jessica Sula), and takes her out of the room, but not before Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) tells Marcia to pee on herself. Dennis quickly returns Marcia and is disgusted at the pee because he has OCD.
I bring up this detail because Dr. Fletcher will point out to another of Kevin’s personalities, Barry (who is actually Dennis pretending to be Barry, and it’s not subtle), that they (they being the collective of personalities referred to as “the horde”) previously got in trouble for wanting to force girls to dance naked. This little tidbit of information never comes back into play in the movie, and that is poor writing. Why draw attention to something if you aren’t going to use it later? Incidentally, this is one of those unfixed flaws I mentioned earlier.
When Dennis returns to the bunker, he apologizes to the girls and tells them they mustn’t be spoiled for the beast. Thus we get the true endgame of Dennis and another personality, Patricia, and learn what these girls have to be afraid of – what we can only assume is another personality that is some kind of monster. I’d like to tell you the rest of the movie is the girls trying to figure out how to escape while dealing with twenty-three different personalities, but then I’d be lying.
While the movie moves along fairly well, it continues to step all over any tension by jumping between therapy sessions, the girls, and Casey’s flashbacks to a hunting trip with her dad and uncle. This is a good time to mention that Shyamalan decided to give Casey a tortured past because nearly all of his characters have to have tortured pasts they must overcome, and he almost always fumbles that part of his characters. This time around is no different. Casey’s flashbacks reveal an abusive uncle whom she points a shotgun at, but can’t pull the trigger. One more flashback shows us said uncle getting custody of Casey after her father’s untimely death and no more flashbacks after that. So, the point of all those flashbacks was to show that Casey overcomes her ability to…fire a shotgun? Wait, that can’t be right – let me check my memory. *Too much time passes* Yep, that’s right. She never takes revenge on her uncle, and the kidnapping situation doesn’t involve sexual assault, so that whole tortured past thing is meaningless. Again, why introduce ideas, then discard them at the end? Overcoming kidnapping is pretty serious and the tension from wondering if they are going to get out of there is more than enough for this film. But Shyamalan just has to swing away, doesn’t he?
Getting back to the trampled tension, the therapy sessions are good for exposition but bad for tension. Every time the film cuts away from the girls, the tension stops because we know they aren’t in danger at that time. Also stepping all over the tension is Shyamalan’s attempt at trying to lighten the mood while trying to make it creepy at the same time with a personality named Hedwig who is nine years old. It kinda-sorta works – the audience was laughing at Hedwig, and McAvoy nailed the personality, but it never builds any tension. Really, Hedwig is just good for more exposition and being a little zany, and you never get the idea that he is going to help the girls out. As a matter of fact, none of the personalities try to help the girls out, which is the big fail of this story and the final reason why the tension is missing. Don’t you think that if you create a character that’s actually twenty-three characters, you should use more than three of them? Me too.
Luckily for Shyamalan, McAvoy puts this movie on his shoulders and carries it for its entire running time. McAvoy does such a great job of portraying the four main personalities (that includes the beast) that it seems as if it’s really four different actors that all look like McAvoy. He’s also so great that you don’t notice how mediocre are the rest of the actors’ performances. Heck, you might even forgive the parts of the screenplay I just dissected for you. But, as one of my Movie Fixers podcast co-hosts said (shameless plug), just because an actor gives a great performance, doesn’t make the movie great. That’s this movie in a nutshell.
Before I leave you and since you’ve been so patient and read all this way, it’s time to answer the question you really want to ask – is there another goddam Shyamalan twist? The answer is yes, but the details depend on who you ask. I suspect most people are going to think the twist is the very last thing you see in the movie, but that isn’t a twist, it’s a teaser. Other people will say it’s the reveal of the beast, but they literally tell you about that one beforehand (even if you aren’t really paying attention you’ll catch it). In my opinion, the twist is the reveal of where Kevin is keeping the girls (also where he lives) because it doubles as an explanation for one of the personalities. I waited the entire film to find this out and was sorely disappointed. But, I won’t ruin that for you because it isn’t so bad that it ruins the film. I know I and many others have been really hard on Shyamalan in the past, but this film shows that while he has a lot of work still to do, he has figured a few things out. Just remember, it’s the least-worst film he’s made in years.
Rating: Ask for $1.50 back. Trust me.